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United States

QUESTIONABLE ETHICS

Reaction in America is mixed regarding the ethics of the controversial selling of used and outdated wind turbines from California to other countries, especially the Third World. Some say it is potentially problematic and a startling indicator of the state of the US renewables industry. But others note that the turbines sold may be the best available.

The issue seems to have hit a sore point for California wind consultant Paul Gipe, who often takes the role of the conscience of the US wind industry. He notes that the sale of uprooted wind farms may be of machines that have been manufactured to high standards and properly maintained -- or it may be the dumping of junk.

"If the Third World is looking to California for inexpensive machines, the Difko deal is the way to go," says Gipe (see main story). He says the Micon units in question are presumably high-quality turbines and are from a project that has been maintained by a legitimate operator. "But there is also the possibility that there is junk being ripped out of California and sent to IndiaÉ"

He says, unexpectedly, the greed of Americans can be exaggerated compared with that of people based in Third World countries. He notes how many queries California operators are receiving about selling their turbines to India and how many requests for sales there are -- from US-based agents trying to arrange sales to India and from people actually based in India -- on the Internet's "usenet newsgroup" forums.

"There are agents scouring California, pushing the price up," he says. The result is that Midwest farmers eager to get into wind turbine ownership may not be able to buy technology they can afford because of the speculation by those interested in the Indian market. "We can't control our own speculators; how can you expect us to control speculators overseas?" asks Gipe angrily.

At the American Wind Energy Association, Randy Swisher notes the phenomenon is an interesting statement on the state of the US industry. "We think it is important that policyholdersÉ are not asleep at the switch," he says. Swisher also says there has been a question about the Indian market from the very beginning -- that the market is similar to pioneering days of wind in pre-1985 California: "You can end up with technology that doesn't work, wind assessments done inadequatelyÉ" And he warns, diplomatically, that there are lessons about maintenance that should have been learned from California. "If those lessons are not paid attention to, there will be problems," he says.

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