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State Puts Onshore Wind Program Back in Business

Report determines that safety is not an issue for most wind turbine vendors operating in New Jersey.

The state yesterday lifted a temporary hold on its small wind program after determining that seven of the 10 onshore wind turbine manufacturers operating in New Jersey had no problems with safety issues, unlike two other vendors whose turbines broke free or caught fire.

The most recent malfunction in March in Forked River led to a temporary shutdown of the onshore wind turbine program, stalling rebates to some 37 projects awaiting processing by the state’s Clean Energy Program, which is part of the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU). In the course of the investigation, it discovered that another manufacturer's turbine had caught fire in January, according to a report prepared by Honeywell Market Manager, a consultant for the agency.

While allowing the processing of $3 million in rebates to some 26 projects, the consultant recommended tightening the requirements for turbine vendors and installers operating in New Jersey. Among the recommended changes are requiring both to post some kind of bond on a project-by-project basis and requiring liability insurance to cover damage to turbines and other equipment.

"In conclusion, we are at a crossroads with small wind systems in New Jersey that requires us to take a positive action to protect the public, restore confidence in both the technology…. and minimize risk to ratepayers," according to Honeywell.

Major Malfunction

The latest incident occurred on March 2, when a still unexplained major malfunction on a wind turbine up and running since December caused all three blades to break loose. On March 8, the clean energy office directed the program coordinator to issue a notice to stakeholders advising that "Effective immediately, there is a temporary hold on all new REIP [Renewable Energy Incentive Program] wind applications and wind rebate processing until further notice."

The cause of the malfunction remains under investigation, but state officials apparently have been convinced that the problem was an isolated instance and should not hold up processing of other rebates, according to officials who declined to be identified for the record.

The small wind program run by the Office of Clean Energy has handed out $4.7 million in rebates for 33 projects, which have installed 7.9 megawatts of new generating capacity, far less than the 300 megawatts of solar systems installed in the state and third behind the 31 megawatts of biomass capacity, as indicated by new Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard proposed by the BPU.

Wind Working Group

In a meeting last week, the small wind working group said seven of the 10 manufacturers had submitted product histories and backup material. After reviewing the information, the working group is prepared to recommend lifting a hold on processing of applications for at least seven wind turbine manufacturers.

Enertech, a company based in Newton, Kansas, just outside of Wichita, is the turbine manufacturer whose blades broke loose in the early March malfunction at a farm in Lacey Township. It is cooperating with the BPU investigation, but has not been able to inspect the faulty blades because the farmer who owns the land will not let the company on his property, according to Dylan Jones, sales manager for the company.

"We’ve never had a blade come off other than this," stated Jones, who said the company has come up with some theories for what caused the malfunction. The most likely is manufacturer error.

Meanwhile, a second safety incident came to light, according to a report prepared by Honeywell, which helps oversee the program. On January 8 at a home in Villas, a 10-kilowatt unit manufactured by Xzeres caught fire.

The Office of Clean Energy also is requesting more information about wind turbines associated with Urban Green Energy, although the consultant noted that the preliminary information submitted by the vendor has been determined to be favorable relating to safety issues. Honeywell also recommended the hiring of an independent third-party to investigate the two safety issues.

At the same time, the state is working with various industry segments to draft new rules requiring that both turbine makers and installers be certified. The process is expected to take a couple of months, according to an official familiar with the timetable.

The small wind program is part of New Jersey’s aggressive efforts to ramp up its use of cleaner sources of energy. By 2020, New Jersey hopes to have 30 percent of its energy produced by renewables, but offshore wind is projected to play a much bigger role than onshore, according to the Energy Master Plan. The state is hoping to develop at least 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, a goal that will be difficult to meet, according to some experts.

There are proposals from a number of developers, however, to build up to 1,100 megawatts of offshore capacity, but only one has filed an application with the BPU and most of the projects are years away from getting underway.

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