VA Spends 300K to Study Defunct St. Cloud Wind Turbine

The Veterans Administration has been trying to get a wind energy project up and running at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center since 2007.  Almost a decade later, the 245 foot high wind turbine originally hyped as a national model by the White House is up but not running since 2012.

The most notable results generated to date by the 93 ton renewable energy installation are a nearly $2 million loss for taxpayers and a black eye for the Obama Administration’s green energy

Yet instead of mothballing the project and cutting taxpayers’ losses, the federal agency recently doubled down on the failed federal stimulus project. The VA announced plans in October to spend an additional $300,000 in public funds to re-evaluate their options.

“VA has made a contract award to conduct a study to inform any future actions at the wind turbine site,” St. Cloud VA Spokesman Barry Venable confirmed in an email. “The study will include…an on-site wind resource assessment to fully characterize the wind resource and identify suitable wind turbines for the site based on wind characteristics.”

What’s behind the feds’ last-ditch effort to revive a project that’s dragged on through two administrations so far? A little known but far-reaching Obama executive order requiring federal agencies to switch to green energy sources across the board.

“The federal government has a mandate, which is the only reason they’re doing this,” said Kristi Rosenquist, a Goodhue County citizen watchdog and expert on renewable energy policy. “They’ve mandated that federal agencies generate 25 per cent of their power from renewables by 2025. So you end up with the VA putting up these useless pieces of steel junk in order to try and meet the mandate.”

The VA had a chance to let the embarrassing project blow over once and for all. The feds reached a deal with the original contractor in July to claw back $450,000 of the $2.25 million taxpayers had spent on the 600 megawatt turbine that was never commissioned due to technical problems.

“Prior to reaching settlement VA assesses litigation costs and risks, and determined settlement was appropriate,” Venable explained. “VA also determined that pursuing litigation would have further delayed the project and would not have resulted in an operable wind turbine.”

Yet the agreement left the VA with a huge problem in the form of an inoperative turbine that towers over the VA campus on the outskirts of St. Cloud. The agency turned to Venergy Group to evaluate whether a project once expected to produce 15 percent of the medical center’s power could somehow be salvaged.

The Florida company “was established in 2009 with the primary goal of catering to the U.S. Federal Government,” according to a 2014 Venergy Group statement of qualifications.

A previous wind feasibility study was carried out in 2009 at the St. Cloud VA campus preceding construction. Prior to that, a separate site evaluation was executed in 2007 to determine whether a wind installation “would be technically and economically feasible.”

Apparently the new study will focus on whether the existing turbine can be refitted with new parts, refurbished and put into service someday.

“[The study will include] …a determination of the turbine market for installing a turbine with warranty on top of an existing tower,” VA spokesman Venable said. “If such warrantied turbines are available, evaluate the condition of the existing tower and foundation, and determine appropriate maintenance, upgrades, or improvements, and associated costs, to the tower and, or, foundation necessary to ensure 20 years of operation.”

But don’t hold your breath. The feasibility study won’t be wrapped up until 2018.