United States

United States

A GREAT SHAME

The wind industry is being shamed by a bout of bitter mud slinging, with Kenetech Corp questioning the technical and financial ability of its rival, Zond Systems Inc, to meet a 100 MW contract granted by Minnesota utility Northern States Power. The 100 MW should have been a showcase project for wind in the Midwest. Had Kenetech been a model of financial fitness, bid for the NSP contract with a tried and tested machine, and been concentrating on getting as much wind power built on Buffalo Ridge as possible, its interference would have been petulant. But for a company which has just reported a loss for the third quarter running, put forward an untested machine for consideration by NSP, and is doing its utmost to delay installation of wind turbines on the ridge by threatening a long legal fight over ownership of wind rights there, crass hypocrisy is a better description. It would be super if Kenetech's proposal for a further 79.5 MW on Buffalo Ridge goes ahead, but the firm's manoeuvring seems to be no more than a disingenuous, ruthless, game of corporate chess. The great shame is that Kenetech may well destroy the game itself. There is more bad odour in Maine, with Kenetech again at the source of problems surrounding preliminary approval of the largest wind project east of the Mississippi. Prior to this approval, though, state employees were axed or reassigned after writing an unfavourable report on the project The state's top planner is also a former Kenetech consultant--and Kenetech's local reps are close buddies of the governor. Something stinks. It is a great shame for wind that a project cannot be given the chance to proceed on its merits. The concern of the wind business is that the nest is being fouled for others. For an industry which leans heavily on green credentials awarded it by a trusting public, cutting throats and playing dirty can do it no good at all.

A disappointing spectacle is unfolding in Minnesota. The forward looking American state was to have been a Midwest showcase for wind, an example of how politicians could mandate clean power that would be installed by a renewable friendly utility without the mess and wasted money of California's recent failed auction of renewables contracts. After a troubled technical start for the first 25 MW on Buffalo Ridge, the upcoming second phase of 100 MW should have been far easier. Instead the wind industry is being shamed by a bout of bitter mud slinging, with Kenetech Corp questioning the selection of its rival, Zond Systems Inc, for the contract (page 19).

Doubts are being raised by Kenetech about Zond's financial ability to complete the project and about Zond's new technology. Kenetech is warning that a delay caused by Zond's inability to deliver would be bad for business -- harming the third phase of wind farm development by Northern States Power (NSP), a phase Kenetech hopes to build.

Had Kenetech been a model of financial fitness, had it bid for the NSP contract with a tried and tested machine, and had it been busy greasing the way for as much wind development on Buffalo Ridge as possible, its interference would have been best described as petulant. But for a company which has just reported a loss for the third quarter running (page 18), put forward an untested machine for consideration by NSP, and is doing its utmost to delay installation of wind turbines on the ridge by threatening a long legal fight over ownership of wind rights there, crass hypocrisy would seem a better description.

It would be super if Kenetech's proposal for a further 79.5 MW on Buffalo Ridge, filed with Minnesota's Environmental Quality Board on July 19, goes ahead in addition to Zond's 100 MW, as Kenetech publicly said is possible. The more wind projects the better, and there's plenty of resource on the ridge. But Kenetech's manoeuvring seems to be no more than a disingenuous, ruthless, game of corporate chess, aimed not at building wind farms, but at knocking everybody else off the board. The great shame is that in the process Kenetech may well destroy the game itself, leaving only lawyers to pick over the remains.

More bad odour

Even what should have been a triumph for wind in Maine -- preliminary approval of the largest wind project east of the Mississippi -- is tainted by unpleasantness, with Kenetech again at the source of the rot (page 19). Regardless of the merit or shortcomings of the project and whether it would ultimately have been approved, it seems the timing (at the very least) of the tentative go ahead has been politically manipulated. That much is clear from local press reports. Maine maybe a tiny state, where interconnection -- and sometimes conflicts of interest -- are routine; it may have been tempted by the offer of desperately needed jobs; and it is true that companies there traditionally have access to hoards of power. But when state employees are axed or reassigned if they write an unfavourable report on a proposed wind plant; when the state's top planner is a former Kenetech consultant; and when Kenetech's local reps are close buddies of the governor, something stinks. It is truly a great shame for wind that a project cannot be given the chance to proceed on its merits -- they may be plenty or they may not -- without the appearance of such appalling influence peddling within an old boy's network.

Times are tough, especially for a publicly traded company with plummeting stock. But the overriding concern of the wind business now is that the nest will be fouled for others. The fight in Minnesota could be hugely damaging over the next 18 months. And if the stench in Maine is not dissipated by some fresh wind, charges of political heavy handedness will return to haunt the industry for years. In any industry, there are players who are more cut throat, and those that are less so, companies that excel in dirty tricks and those which prefer to keep their noses clean. But for an industry as new and unformed as wind -- leaning heavily on green credentials awarded it by a trusting public -- cutting throats and playing dirty can do it no good at all. Short sighted fiascos such as those in Minnesota and Maine harm industry bystanders, consumers, stockholders, the environment -- and ultimately the wind business.

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