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Idle turbine at St. Cloud VA hospital generates criticism, not energy

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A wind energy project designed to yield savings on utility bills at St. Cloud's Veterans Administration Health Care System has instead produced only embarrassment for the VA.

As reports, the turbine has been sitting broken since August of 2012 due to a series of mechanical problems. Watchdog says no repairs are in the works at the 245-foot tall turbine, which was built with federal stimulus money at a cost of $2.3 million.

Barry Venable, a public affairs officer for the VA in St. Cloud, tells the website “We’re embarrassed that this turbine does not operate as advertised.”

Earlier this month the St. Cloud Times reported that the turbine has become "a towering boondoggle." Construction was finished in April of 2011 with the expectation that the turbine would generate about 15 percent of the electricity used at the hospital, shrinking the VA's $1.1 million a year utility bill by that same percentage.

But the Times says while the VA has paid 99 percent of the cost of installing it, the turbine is not saving them any money. Venable told the Times “You fix one thing and something else pops up. It’s extraordinarily unreliable.”

As far back as December of 2011 KNSI was reporting on repairs that were expected to take a few weeks but were stretching on for nine months.

In January of this year Venable told WJON the VA was working with the contractor, JK Scanlon Co., of Falmouth, Mass., in hopes of getting the system operational again. The Times says the manufacturer of the turbine, Elecon Turbowinds, is based in India and is not well established in the U.S.

The problems provide fuel for critics of the federal government's stimulus spending, particularly when it comes to renewable energy.

Peter Nelson, director of public policy at the Center of the American Experiment, told it's an example of a stimulus project that makes no economic sense. "The VA in St. Cloud shouldn’t be in the electricity business,” Nelson says. "We already have utilities in Minnesota who are in the utilities business who know the best areas in Minnesota for setting up wind turbines and know how to maintain them.”

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