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Xcel suit: Manufacturer concealed defect that caused costly accident

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Xcel Energy is suing the manufacturer of a turbine that was damaged in a costly incident at its Sherco plant in Becker, Minnesota.

The Star Tribune reported that the malfunction led to an expensive and time-consuming repair job at the coal-fired power plant, located on the Mississippi river 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. The newspaper said Xcel Energy spent $200 million in the 22 months it took to make the repairs and bring the Sherco 3 electric generator back online. Xcel customers paid $65 million in replacement power costs during the repair. It went back online in October 2013.

In the lawsuit filed in Sherburne County District Court, Xcel alleged that the turbine's dangerous defect was something that manufacturer General Electric knew about but fraudulently concealed. The turbine was damaged in November of 2011 as Xcel was testing it after a service outage. The spinning turbine hurled pieces of metal across the turbine room and erupted in fire that damaged other equipment. The St. Cloud Times adds that the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA), which owns 41 percent of Sherco 3, also is a plaintiff in the suit against General Electric and three of its affiliates. The power agency supplies electricity to 108,000 customers at 18 Minnesota municipal utilities.

Several insurers that held policies covering damage are part of Xcel’s suit against GE. The lawsuit claims that GE and its service affiliates had known about a defect in its turbine blades for decades, had documented dozens of earlier failures and had even developed and patented an improved design. Even so, the lawsuit contends, GE didn’t tell Xcel about the problem before the accident. GE had no response to the lawsuit on Wednesday.

Sherco 3 is one of three units at the power station. The other two units were not damaged.

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