Thruway Authority sues maker of wind turbines that don’t work

From The Buffalo News

Thruway-wind-turbines-1260x800

Just a few years after the New York State Thruway Authority spent about $5 million on five wind turbines, four of them stand dormant. This is the wind turbine at Thruway Exit 59 at Fredonia. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Thruway Authority sues maker of wind turbines that don’t work

By Jonathan D. Epstein | Published 1:05 p.m. December 27, 2018 | Updated 7 hours ago

Four years after spending $5 million to install wind turbines at four highway exits, the New York State Thruway Authority is now suing the company, contractor and consultants who installed them because the machines haven’t worked since last year.

The authority on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Vergnet Group S.A., Prudent Engineering LLP, Ravi Engineering & Land Surveying PC, Kandey Company Inc. and CHA Consulting Inc., citing the failure of four turbines along the Thruway in Chautauqua and Erie counties. The machines are located on authority property at exits 61, 59, 58 and 57A.

The turbines were installed in 2013-2014 as part of a renewable energy program designed to generate enough power to save the authority as much as $420,000 a year on energy bills. The authority spent $500,000 on design and up to $4.8 million on installation. But the machines went offline between October 2017 and January 2018 because of mechanical issues.

The suit alleges negligence, professional malpractice, breach of warranty and breach of contract. The authority seeks to recoup $8.1 million from the installation and operation of the two-blade machines, plus interest, costs and collection fees. The state Attorney General’s Office is handling the litigation for the authority.

According to the lawsuit, West Seneca-based Kandey was selected to install the turbines through a competitive bidding process, and hired Vergnet, a French company that manufactured the machines. But Vergnet was placed in receivership more than a year ago because of severe cash flow problems, and was taken over by a consortium of five companies led by asset management firm Arum International.

Albany-based CHA Consulting – formerly Clough Harbor & Associates LLP – provided preliminary engineering services, final design services and construction support for the project, while East Syracuse-based Prudent Engineering provided construction inspection services for the installation. Prudent also served as a subconsultant to Ravi Engineering for program management, monitoring and maintenance services.

Joe Kandefer, vice president at Kandey, the general contractor on the project, said the company has not yet received the lawsuit, but insisted that Kandey had “complied in all respects with the contract documents,” which required purchase of the specific windmills from Vergnet, “with no substitution allowed.”

“We were not negligent in any way whatsoever,” Kandefer said by email. “Kandey Company purchased the windmills from Vergnet, as required, and properly installed and tested them. At this time, we are unaware of the details as to why the windmills are offline, but Kandey Company is confident that we did nothing wrong and will be vindicated in court.”

None of the other companies could be reached for comment Thursday except for Ravi, which declined to comment.

A fifth turbine, installed near Exit 60 at the Westfield Maintenance Facility, was manufactured by a different company, Northern Power Systems of Vermont, and is still operating. It is not part of the lawsuit.

HT/TJ

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106 thoughts on “Thruway Authority sues maker of wind turbines that don’t work

  1. I have seen these wind turbines along I-90 (the New York Thruway) but never realized they were Thruway Authority-owned. As a toll-payer now I see we are the losers in the ill-conceived project. These units are much smaller than the typical machines being installed 5 years ago. There was no way it ever could have been realistically justified.

    • The whole thing is a joke! Even the ones that supposedly “work” provide only skittering, UNRELIABLE energy – usually at times we don’t need it. New York State’s 25 installed wind factories have been providing an average annual output of only 25% (at best) since the beginning nearly 20 years ago, and somehow NYS’s energy-illiterate powers-that-be are surprised that they “don’t work”?!? How can the state blame wind companies for cashing in on the initiatives the State themselves offered to lure them here, while the state has been ignoring the FACTS about wind energy from its inception??? How about the State & the Thruway Authority sue themselves for NOT doing their due diligence, and FIRE every single talking head that had, or has, anything to do with the industrial wind CONSUMER FRAUD in the first place!?! SO pathetic.

  2. “The turbines were installed in 2013-2014 as part of a renewable energy program designed to generate enough power to save the authority as much as $420,000 a year on energy bills.”
    So, in actuality, it might have saved perhaps half that, assuming they continued working. Which means, they never would have come close to paying for themselves. Is the NY State Thruway Authority really that stupid?

    • Everything and I mean everything in all the State agencies is micro managed by Governor Cuomo’s minions and it is all about how it looks, not how it works. Throw in the fact that they are universally energy innumerate and this is the result.

      • Wish there was something we could do about it Roger Ciazza! New York State is such a beautiful state when you get out of NYC & Albany. The energy-illiterate politicians are ruining it. Very sad.

    • Bruce Cobb, yes NY State really is that stupid! Now, who is going to pay to dismantle these eye-sores? Or are they going to wait until they rust out, fall down and kill someone during a storm?

  3. After the study that showed the abbreviated lifespans and lowered capacity of even the finest wind turbines, this is no surprise. It was that “Will save $420,00 a year that sucked them in. It does look like their lawsuit is not very focused – they are suing everyone that had anything to do with the project.
    The local birds and bats rejoice. Now let’s see if they continue to put money into wind turbines. Someone send them a copy of the study that showed wind turbines as much less than advertised.

    • “they are suing everyone that had anything to do with the project”

      That is more or less standard procedure these days. And the settlement will be based on who has the most money, not who is the most culpable.

    • … they are suing everyone that had anything to do with the project.

      That’s standard operating practice. I had it explained to me many years ago and I’ve forgotten and a quick google isn’t enlightening.

      One reason a defendant might get dragged into a lawsuit is the ability to pay the judgment.

      In the context of a lawsuit, the deep pocket is often the target defendant, even when the true (moral) culpability is with another party because the deep pocket has money to pay a verdict. For example, a lawyer may comment that he or she sued the manufacturer of a product rather than the seller because it is the deep pocket, meaning it has more money than the seller with which to compensate the victim. link

      If I remember correctly, a defendant who is only marginally culpable (ie. 1%) could get stuck paying the whole judgment if the other defendants can’t pay. That defendant then has the option of going after the others, but they have no money anyway. (IANAL and the last law course I took was around thirty years ago.)

        • I would be very surprised if the contracts created actual partnerships. The issue is suing everyone who contracted with the Authority. Most vulnerable IMHO is the general contractor, despite the Vergnet specification embedded in his contract. Unless he took exception to the use of Vergnet turbines, he could get stuck. If he objected too vigorously, he’s still stuck.

  4. Bringing suit after the failure is a poor substitute for due diligence evaluating (and rejecting) the original over-blown proposal. Another gullible company with a wannabe-green bent learns the hard way that wind power not only blows, it also sucks.

    • “The suit alleges negligence, professional malpractice, breach of warranty and breach of contract. The authority seeks to recoup $8.1 million from the installation and operation of the two-blade machines, plus interest, costs and collection fees. The state Attorney General’s Office is handling the litigation for the authority.”

      See! They do make money

  5. ‘Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — variation of quote attributed to philosopher George Santayana,

    • Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress (1905-1906) The Life of Reason (1905-1906), Vol. I, Reason in Common Sense”

      • Infancy is a good term for the mindless green blob who refuse to learn from past experience, or someone else’s experience; yet who scream like little children when they don’t get their way.

  6. I drive that stretch of I-90 a lot. That style of turbine is at the thruway maintenance centers and at the eastern toll booths. I have noticed that they never are turning. But what the heck. The NY through way authority doesn’t care about money. If they did they would have automatic ticket dispensers instead of paying people to hand out the tickets. Not that I have to deal with any of that since the truck has EZ-Pass. I will give them credit though. They sure work hard at keeping the road passable during winter weather. Far better than PA does on I-90 up near Erie.

    Of course along several areas of that road we’re talking serious lake effect snows at times. Amazing at times. A few years ago I was headed up I-79 to catch the toll road east at Erie. My destination was in Tonawanda which is the northern and northeastern portion of the Buffalo metro area. the jumbotron on I-79 said that I-90 was closed at Hamburg just west of Buffalo. They had gotten hit with a tremendous lake effect snow that stranded a bunch of people in their vehicles. I altered my route and took I 86 down through the hills and then cut north on US 219. I took my 10 hour break in a little rest area off that road and then drove on in the morning. My plan was to go as far north as I could then cut east as far as it took to get to a road I could cut north on again and enter Tonawanda from the east if I had to. As it turned out they had the roads open by then though it looked like they had gotten 2′ or more of snow in some areas. But what was amazing was that when I got to the place I was picking up on Fire Tower Road in Tonawanda there was not a flake of snow on the ground or in the air yet eight miles away as the crow flies to the WSW they were still in a snow emergency.

    • How would you have managed in an Electric car?

      Probably frozen to death long before reaching home I expect.

      • I don’t know, but as the technology stands now you would never find me owning one, let alone trying to make a 570 mile trip in one. Besides, I was in the big truck. During the winter months when the weather threatens I try to keep at 1/2 fuel level or more and at all times of the year I keep a minimum of 5 days of provisions, food and drink, in the truck. Don’t have a TV in the truck anymore but I have my Kindle and can live stream whatever I want over my phone through the truck stereo system to pass the time and live quite comfortably for several days if stranded. Just set the truck on idle management and wait it out. Even have a 12 V vacuum and all the cleaning supplies I need if I want to clean house if I want. Usually have several changes of cloths. Have everything I need for personal hygiene in my locker bag. If the truck breaks down in the winter I keep enough winter clothes and a good sleeping bag plus blankets to make it through without heat if I have to.

    • I left the region in 1965, so lake effect snow is a distant memory.
      You might, when you are not in 30 inches of snow, find reading about BUFKIT of interest.
      That is, a computer tool KIT developed at BUFfalo.
      BUFKIT is “a forecast profile visualization and analysis tool kit”, … It was developed in the mid-90s to help meteorologists forecast lake effect events.
      I’ll give one link, but there are many.
      http://www.theweatherprediction.com/weatherpapers/056/index.html

      • John,

        Thanks for the BUFKIT info.
        I read the discussions but never bothered to learn about BUFKIT.
        We get a lot of lake effect in Southern Vermont.

        Y.

      • Thanks. During inclement weather or when there is a potential for it I usually keep my radio on the NWS weather band. It has saved me some possible real trouble several times. But sometimes nothing can make up for the ignorance or stupidity of those that dispatch me. They sent me into Boston to pick up at a place north of Logan Airport and east of the Bunker Hill memorial on the morning after that city had received it’s all time record snow. I could tell several more stories like that. This winter already I made it through the southern edge of that blizzard that came through Missouri. Regular driver called off for a run to N. Kansas City, MO and back at the last minute so they called me. Driving West on I-70 Just west of the St. Louis area I hit about 60 miles of near white out conditions. After I broke through that into the clear the road conditions sucked and they had flashing signs saying “Travel beyond Columbia not advised. Seek Lodging”. Since my lodging is right behind my drivers seat I drove on and luckily made it. That is what I do. I get paid a salary and have a company phone and get paid to come in and take loads when things get screwed up. Some so called “truck drivers” wimp out when there is bad weather forecast along their route and call off and so if there is bad weather somewhere there is a fair chance that I’ll be trucking towards it.

    • Betamax worked and was, initially at least, superior to VHS. The Authority is suing because of equipment that doesn’t work.

      Now of course, both Betamax and VHS are obsolete so it doesn’t matter which one you own. The competition between the two has been called a classic marketing case study. link

  7. It’s grossly unfair for the plaintiffs to throw additional taxpayer money away on State-employed attorney services, after pursuing the one-source contract based solely on the mere conjecture of $420,000 annual power bill savings.

    More likely, those derelict turbines were for the purpose of virtue-signaling by the Thruway Authority and the aggrandizement of its officers. The defendants will likely enjoy making public fools of said officers. Perhaps we retired public works engineers can reap some enjoyment in our dotage by attending the trials.

    • I would think that a large component of the Tollway Authority’s decision to acquire wind power is some of that sweet Fe’ral government Renewables subsidies and grants.

      Will the defendants ask the TA about that money?

    • Well, sole-source Vergnet went into receivership and Arum may have made clear on signing that it would not underwrite any old Vergnet warranties. WHO’S responsible for that sole-source decision?

      • One way or another the entire climate change and renewables industry is based around spending OPM with the usual and entirely predictable results.

    • There’s and old joke about a rebuild on heaven’s ‘pearly gates’:
      St. Peter is seeking bids for a rebuild on the pearly gates, so he contacts 3 contractors for estimates. The first contractor responds with a $2 million bid, the second with a $4 million bid and the third replied with $10 million. St. Peter a bit aghast at the 3rd bid being so out of whack asked for justification. The 3rd bidder replied that the costs covered $4 million for St. Peter’s ‘administrative fees’, $4 million for the contractors ‘administrative fees’ and $2 million for the schmuck who will do the work.

  8. Aircraft and wind turbines share quite a common core. Including weight constraints and power to mass ratios.

    Being airfoils, they are equally subject to very difficult to forsee and manage vibratory behaviors, buffeting, weather.

    All taken into account, maintenance costs are logically closer to those of aviation than public utility machines.

    No wonder the comprehensive cost of their lifespan total energy delivery is sky-high when compared to machinery with other design constraints.

    • Yep, but the pilot/owner pays the cost of maintenance, it is not foisted upon the taxpayer that should at least ask for an itemized bill for the privilege of being fleeced.

      • Right u.k. , one more reason windmills are inappropriate for public funded use by captive customers.

    • Aircraft operate in a much more controlled environment than wind turbines apart from the circumstances where they are on the ground, outdoors in a storm. In those conditions it would be rare for the wind to exceed the design windspeed of the aircraft; only the smallest propeller drive aircraft would possibly experience wind greater than design speed. By contrast wind turbines are designed for maximum power at moderate windspeed but have to survive the severest of wind. Feathering/braking helps in reducing wind load but there is inevitably a short time window between achieving design output and need for feathering/braking in stormy, gusty wind conditions.

      • Rapid actions are not really compatible with big structures either. That much distributed mass to handle.

        Feathering has it’s limits too, severe turbulent changes of windspeed have the reputation to take a toll on feathered props by possible sudden random rotation jerks.

        Which depends on what’s on the shaft can become quite loud for a short moment.

        Applying a brake to a runaway windmill prop ? I’ll watch from far away.

      • The FAA doesn’t always follow NTSB recommendations, but in any event airline safety is one of the very few things government has gotten right.

        • Have they really? they seem to engage after the fact when the mistakes have been made. Not saying they dont do good work, just that maybe more could be done at the front end. Its just a brutal cost benefit I guess, air travel is very safe, but you are going to lose a few. Diminishing returns and all that.

    • I think one thing is true. If the FAA really was in charge of the “Bird Choppers” they would rapidly price them out of economic feasibility.

  9. Just today on a previous thread I decided to look on Google Scholar for academic or technical articles on wind turbine reliability. And I discovered a curious thing. I entered as search term “wind turbine reliability” and looked at the first 200 articles that were delivered (20 pages, 10 per page).

    What I found was that articles giving direct data on wind turbine reliability and breakdown numbers, stopped abruptly at about 2012. Before then, lots of papers, after 2012, nothing. By time I got past 100 papers, they were already drifting off the topic of direct reliability numbers, into specific technical matters.

    There was a single 2015 paper looking at poor reliability stats of wind in China, but attributing this to specific (and none too complimentary) Chinese issues.

    There was one paper from 2016 giving reliability data from offshore and onshore wind turbines, but with the data not summarised in a transparent way, quite a deep look was needed to find the numbers. And in any case, it looked mostly at turbines less than 5 years old so was not very useful for long term reliability.

    https://strathprints.strath.ac.uk/54141/1/Carroll_etal_WE_2015_Failure_rate_repair_time_and_unscheduled_O_and_M_cost_analysis_of_offshore.pdf

    FWIW, here’s what it found. For numbers of total failures, minor and major combined, per year, were the following:
    Offshore: 1 / year
    Onshore: 1 / 8 years
    (Figure 11).

    Also, a 2018 article making the unlikely claim that the wind itself has dropped 30%. (This is nonsense. It is probably an officially sanctioned excuse for deterioration in the global wind turbine fleet.)

    But these are the exceptions. Papers saying clearly how wind power is performing, in terms of reliability, appear to stop around 2012. Since then a silence has descended in the open literature on wind turbine reliability. Google Scholar is quite good at finding papers if they’re online as confirmed in independent tests, competing well with even some quite expensive academic search engines.

    Why this silence, one wonders?

      • Tasfay Martinov, I just repeated your search using google scholar and my university library account.

        I entered the search string with quotes: “wind turbine reliability”

        Google scholar returned:

        463 articles from 2013 – 2019
        248 articles from 1900 – 2012

        University library returned:

        831 articles from 2013 – 2019
        438 articles from 1900 – 2012

        I took the default search settings on both systems so the returns may be ‘flexible’.

        However, more articles (papers, conference proceedings etc) are being published now compared to pre 2013.

      • Steve
        I didn’t just count the number of papers in a given category. I read the titles and sometimes the abstracts to see which papers give accessible numbers about actual reliability in the field (not buried in small print) or not some narrow technical topic without reliability data. I looked at the first 200 that were provided by Google Scholar.

        Please prove me wrong if I am. But I could not easily find numbers on wind turbine reliability published in the last 4-5 years.

    • I spent some time researching operational problems and was somewhat surprised at how muted this entire topic seems to be.

      Focusing primarily on offshore wind farms, there appears to be an unending array of difficulties ranging from grout problems with the monopile construction, the ever present leading edge corrosion on the blades, transmission cable issues, contending with the ever present weather conditions.

      Simply incredible that this archaic form of power generation is even considered remotely viable.

      • Whatever happened to the helical blade style? I remember seeing a few on a trip up to Prince Edward Island about 16 years ago.

  10. The Thruway Authority jumped on the Virtue Signaling Bandwagon… and got taken for a ride.

    The Virtue Signaling Bandwagon always rides the Highway to Hell … paved with ___________.
    (well, we all think know what it is paved with, but really it’s paved with OPM, like all things Green)

  11. They could hook up electric motors to make the wind turbines turn. And then no one who’s not in on the joke would know that they’re not really working…of course they’d lose even more money but why should they care – their salaries will still be paid. After all it’s only OPM.

  12. These are 2-blade turbines installed in 2013-2014. However, the three-blade concept gradually became dominant during the late 1980s. See “Darrieus” for example. Or have a look here: Popular Mechanics
    So why did the New York State Thruway Authority go for the non-standard design? All sorts of designs have been tried with novel ideas looking good on paper (or as computer models).

    • A follow the money trail through that whole deal would be most illuminating. I would be focussing on those mandating that spec.

    • serious Q
      why the hell isnt anyone using smaller Savonius rotors
      dont kill birds and dont take the space and bits less likely to break snap fly off etc

    • I was going to ask the same thing. A two-bladed design in 2013? That’s amazing!
      They are much noisier than the three-bladed design – making that ‘chopping’ noise that can be heard (in certain directions) for miles – normally associated with “Huey” helicopters and the Vietnam War.

  13. Only a Govt authority would spend $5.3 million to save $420 k per year on wind turbines. If the figures are correct, which they probably are not, that is a payback period of 12.6 years… which is not far short of the actual life span of the machines.

    That is just crazy!

    • 12.6 years doesn’t include interest on the loans needed to buy and construct the things.
      Nor does it include any kind of maintenance on the ones that aren’t already broken beyond fixing.
      I’ll bet it also doesn’t cover decomissioning costs.

  14. Well they look like 200kW size turbines which if running at the typical efficiency of 25% of installed capacity would yield just 50kW each which at $0.20/kWh gives a value of $10/hr gross. That would only produce about $90,000/year per turbine. All five working at max efficiency would provide only $450,000/year gross. even using domestic NY rates for electricity? I am sure the NY authorities don’t pay 20 cent/kWh so the return from these Green Pillars of Virtue, would be even less than my estimate.
    If you add in the cost of maintenance and monitoring plus the lost investment income from the projects capital cost of $5 million, there was never any possibility those turbines would yield a saving of $500,000/year.
    That then begs the question, who authorised them and who did the number?
    I hope the law suit goes forward, because the logic behind these projects and who is responsible will have to be revealed in open court.

  15. I have a dumb question. Why do they use giant blade design instead of small scoop design? I recall a small-windmill design from many moons ago that was basically a halved 55 gallon drum, used because it was spectacularly efficient even at ground level, especially in low wind conditions. Seems to me this would require a lot less engineering if only because it’s not subject to so much dangling-way-the-hell-out-there stress.

    • scoop designs are heavier and very ineffective at converting wind into power. They also experience a lot of drag in high winds. This means the supporting structure needs to be much stronger. Overall all vertical axis wind turbine are less effective and cost more and produce less power than the current 3 blade horizontal wind turbine.

  16. OOPS! So this “Throwaway Authority” having just thrown away a load of dosh is now hell bent on growing away a load more into the hands of the lawyers.

  17. Must be a blow to the budget ho ho ho just stand a few politician’s in front of them, they’ll wiz around in no time.

  18. When I travel through windmill country, Rosinante like, I am very distracted counting and estimating the fraction of non-functioning windmills. Usually about 10% are not turning with their neighbors, very seldom do I see all the windmills in a development turning.

    Has anyone ever heard a private windmill owner brag on their ROI? Nyaah, windmills are a tool of touts, salesmen, and crooked investment advisors.

    • I travel through South Shropshire once every week, there is a wind turbine in a very prominent position that has not turned a blade in over a year and counting.
      I will keep you posted.

  19. Take that propeller, add 7 more to make 8, put ’em on a giant spruce-wood airplane, and now you GOT something!

  20. Joe Kandefer, vice president at Kandey, the general contractor on the project, said the company has not yet received the lawsuit, but insisted that Kandey had “complied in all respects with the contract documents,” which required purchase of the specific windmills from Vergnet, “with no substitution allowed.”

    Maybe they need to sue the person (probably a government worker), who sole-sourced the windmills in the first place. I just wonder if there were any kickbacks involved.

  21. I’m old enough to remember back when the NYS Thruway (and NJ’s Garden State Parkway) were to be toll free as soon as the bonds to build them were paid off. Per Wikipedia:

    All tolls along the Thruway were supposed to be abolished when the construction bonds used to build it had been paid off.[28] The last of the bonds were paid off in 1996; however, the tolls remained in place after the New York State Legislature transferred ownership of the New York State Canal System to NYSTA in 1992.

    I recall promise dates much earlier than ’96; and that tolls would be reduced as those bonds fell away year by year.

    It is interesting to read about the “father” of the concept of creating “authorities” as self contained entities (Robt Moses) to take funding (and most of the approvals thereof) out of the hands of state legislators. But like most things in the natural world “authorities” found their way back to state control (and a source of state funds).

  22. Yep, there’s a wind farm about 20 miles away with about 40 turbines, and about half of them are inoperational at any time, an even mix of turning and inert windmills. But whenever you see a TV reporter talking about wind power, you always see 100% turning windmills behind them. How long does it take them to figure out a spot where they can get such a background, in the midst of so much failure? Fake News!

    • Vertical axis turbines have been tried many times and have never live up to expectations. Additionally they as significantly less effective at converting wind energy into electrical energy. Also the design means the blades are closer to the ground were the wind is more turbulant and not as strong.

      If you go to the airport and look at aircraft you will see most look about the same . Over many years the industry has concluded that todays common design has the best overall performance. Same applies to wind turbines. Most sold today are horizontal axis wind turbines. And the vast majority have 3 blades. Why they simply work better than vertical axis and 3 blades work better than 4, 2, and 1 blade designs that were all tried in the 1970s.

  23. NY is a magnet for green things that don’t work. Has anyone seen any of the Tesla solar roof tiles lately from the mega solar factory in Buffalo?

  24. Virtue signaling is not supposed to spin or produce electricity. It just sits there signaling like store music in the head while silently enriching the instigators.

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