The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has halted plans for a proposed $45 million plant of Kenetech wind turbines in California. The decision not to proceed with the 45 MW project follows problems with the company's turbines and Kenetech's notice that it is unable to offer a fix because of its financial troubles.
The announcement, made May 15 after a vote by utility board directors, dashes Kenetech's hopes of completing the two-phase 50 MW project, billed as the first utility owned wind plant in the US. The unanimous vote came after reports that several of the 17 Kenetech KVS-33 turbines, installed over a year ago in the first 5 MW phase, near Rio Vista in Solano County, encountered blade and generator problems. "We're starting to experience some of the same problems [Kenetech has had] in Texas," said SMUD's Colin Taylor.
The 150 turbines for Phase II would have been installed -- by 1997 -- near the Phase I site in Rio Vista. "We had to make a business decision in the best interest of our customers and the district," SMUD board president Anthony Pescetti explains. Taylor says Kenetech had also told the utility it could not yet provide a good product. "Kenetech basically advised us they needed to fix those problems before they could go ahead with that model," says Taylor. During the year or so the plant has been on-line some gearboxes have cracked on "less than a handful" of turbines and on a few machines there has been some delamination on perhaps two or three blades, says Taylor.
Power production has generally been about 95% of what was expected and the availability more than 90%. "I think it's fundamentally a good machine -- they're not problems that can't be fixed," he adds. "Potentially, it's a good product." SMUD is also halting plans for a 149 MW cogeneration plant after concluding that it will be able to buy power more cheaply elsewhere.
The utility, however, says it is still as interested as ever in renewables. On March 29, it issued a request for proposals for 50 MW (rated capacity) of renewables. The utility's integrated resource planning process calls for 10 MW of renewable capacity to be added to the system every year between 1996 and 2002. Direct economic cost will be an important factor in choosing the capacity, as will reducing air pollution, and promoting local economic development. The deadline for proposals is July 1.