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Netherlands

Joint initiative on blade failures, Kenetech users group

Owners of problem-plagued KVS-33M wind turbines--left in the lurch after the bankruptcy of Kenetech Windpower--are now acting jointly to find solutions to the design's chronic blade failures and the difficulty of finding replacement parts. The faulty blades, says the KVS-33M Users Group, cannot tolerate their design levels of stress.

Owners of problem-plauged KVS-33M wind turbines -- left in the lurch after the bankruptcy of Kenetech Windpower -- are now acting jointly to find solutions to the design's chronic blade failures and the difficulty of finding replacement parts. The faulty blades, says the KVS-33M Users Group, cannot tolerate their design levels of stress.

The most recent project to register blade problems is the 5 MW wind farm operated by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). Project manager Paul Olmstead says there are some cracks in blades at the KVS turbines at the SMUD site, though he assures they are more cosmetic than acute problems. Just the same, he comments: "The vendor Kenetech chose to make blades did not engage in the best business practices in the world." He notes that quality control left much to be desired. "Kenetech really made some bone-head decisions. Anyone with a master's degree in business would conclude that the way Kenetech managed things is the classic case of how not to run a business," he comments.

Help sought

The users group will perform load testing on blades in the Netherlands in order to develop new blades to boost performance at their under performing projects. The blade tests will likely occur at the Kenetech wind farm on the North Sea coast of the Netherlands later this year. A request for proposals to carry out the work should be issued shortly by the KVS-33M Users Group. It will include documentation about specifications and load testing.

According to Olmstead, the users group was formed last year after the bankruptcy. Along with SMUD, members include the Dutch EDON utility, Canada Niagara Power and Charter Oaks of Connecticut, the latter an owner of a wind project in Costa Rica. Louisville Gas & Electric, owner of the 25 MW Kenetech project selling electricity to Northern States Power in Minnesota and stakeholder in the Tarifa 30 MW Kenetech wind plant in Spain, recently withdrew from the group.

"We figured we would have more bargaining chips if we bought parts as a group instead of individually," says Olmstead. He remarks that it appears the blades Kenetech installed on these projects can only endure about half of the stress from winds as identified by the defunct wind company.

"We do not really have blade problems at our site," adds Olmstead. The chief problem is finding parts. Five of the 17 KVS wind turbines at SMUD's site are not currently in operation due to a lack of parts that cost as little as $70, he says. A less than typical spring wind season, along with preventative maintenance activities, has greatly reduced energy output from the wind farm this year.

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