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No comment on gearbox problems -- Vestas 3 MW flagship in trouble

Gearbox problems have forced six of ten Vestas V90 3 MW turbines offline in Canada at the 30 MW East Point Wind Plant in Prince Edward Island. The problems were discovered during routine inspection and the turbines shut down to avoid further damage, say the PEI government, which owns and operates the plant through the PEI Energy Corporation (PEIEC). East Point was commissioned in February 2007.

Ron Estabrooks, an energy advisor with PEIEC, says the first three turbines were taken offline the first Friday in March. "Subsequent to that, there were three more taken off right through until the first or second week of April," he says. Vestas-Canadian Wind Technology expects to have replacement gearboxes installed in the East Point turbines by the end of this month. Repairs were delayed because spring weight restrictions on Prince Edward Island roads meant the crane needed to replace the failed gearboxes could not get to the site.

"We are focusing our efforts on delivering the parts to the site to ensure the timely replacement of the gearboxes. Our main objective is to get the turbines online again so that they can start generating clean renewable energy," according to an official statement by Jens Søby, president of Vestas Americas.

Vestas declines to say whether the gearbox failures in Canada are the first to occur in its flagship 3 MW model installed on land. Gearboxes in the offshore version of the machine installed in the 90 MW Kentish Flats wind farm off the east coast of England suffered a series failure in 2006, requiring replacement of the component. In early 2007, the offshore 3 MW machine was pulled off the market, to be reintroduced again at the start of last month.

"With the technical problems identified and put right, a thorough testing and approval process has ensured that the newly-built V90-3.0 MW turbines will deliver the reliable performance customers expect," says Vestas in its company magazine. Vestas has also replaced gearboxes in the 3 MW offshore turbines at the 90 MW Barrow wind farm in England and is doing the same at the 108 MW Egmond aan Zee wind farm in the Netherlands.

Whether the problem in Canada with gearboxes on the East Point turbines is the same as that identified with the offshore machines is not something Vestas will comment on. The company is known to use more than one gearbox supplier and more than one gearbox configuration. According to Estabrooks, speaking last month, the exact nature of the problem in Canada has not been diagnosed, although his understanding is that Vestas suspects it could be an issue with bearings. "From what I hear, they don't really know," he says.

Nothing to add

From Vestas headquarters in Denmark, Peter Wenzel Kruse, senior vice president, group communications, declined an invitation to publicly reassure Vestas' customers and investors as to what action it is taking. "Vestas has nothing new to add to the V90-3 MW-gearbox-saga," he says.

Vestas launched its 3 MW turbine, one of the largest in series production, in 2004. The company will not to say how many it has put into operation since then, but according to company announcements, around 500 have been shipped to customers in major orders alone. Excluding the three offshore projects, 3 MW turbines are turning in Portugal, Australia, Canada, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, Spain and the United States. More recent announcements of major orders indicate that more than one hundred further machines are either being installed or are on order, including for two projects in Turkey.

Vestas' annual report for 2007 shows the company has set aside EUR 232 million to cover the costs of repairs of machines under warranty. The PEI Energy Corporation's agreement with Vestas provides compensation for lost revenue during the turbine outage. The turbines have generated more than 90 million kWh of electricity since coming online.

When the 3 MW machine was still at prototype stage in 2003, Vestas said the design life was 20 years and the turbine would require only one service visit a year. Last month, Søby stated: "The V90-3.0 MW wind turbine is the largest and most powerful turbine in commercial operation on the North American market. The technology is still new, and it is a key focus area of ours to continuously develop and improve the reliability of our products."

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