Pursuing damages

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Six months after its official opening, the largest wind farm in the Netherlands looks set to become the subject of litigation in the US courts. Dutch utility EDON, the owner of the development of 94 Kenetech turbines at Eemsmond, has hired a San Francisco law firm and is currently seeking legal advice on the recovery of damages following a second blade failure in September which has meant the closure of the plant at wind speeds averaging more than 17 m/s.

The failed blades in question were submitted to Holland's national air and space laboratory (NLR) in Noordwijk for analysis. According to EDON's Jan Veenstra, the results reveal that a production, rather than a development fault is to blame, with the plastic layer at the point of fracture failing to meet design specifications.

This conclusion would seem to shift liability away from the turbine's manufacturer, the now bankrupt Kenetech, to the supplier of the blades. Although Veenstra refuses to name the company involved on the grounds that it might prejudice EDON's current efforts to determine liability under US law, he acknowledges that the supplier is American -- not European as repeatedly claimed in the past by both Kenetech and Edon. Industry insiders are pointing the finger at Kenetech's usual blade producer, TPI of Rhode Island. TPI confirms the blades were made in the US, but will not discuss whether they or another manufacturer was involved. Formerly known as Tillitson-Pearson Inc, the company had at one time made almost all of the blades for Kenetech turbines. Kenetech also had an apparently small number of blades for its troubled 33M-VS turbine made at Ciba in Washington state (Windpower Monthly, December 1994).

Whoever is named in the action could be liable for substantial damages. With the NLR findings suggesting that the entire production process is defective, EDON has joined forces with the owners of other troubled Kenetech wind plants in Spain, Costa Rica and the US to pool expertise in pursuit of damages.

The extent of EDON's own losses is still unknown. While the NLR findings suggest that none of the Eemsmond plant's 33M-VS (NL) turbines can be operated safely in strong winds, the utility is optimistic that the blades can be repaired rather than replaced and has asked NLR for advice on the best way to proceed. An answer was expected last month.

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