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New York State Thruway Authority loses lawsuit over non-functioning windmills

Thruway spent $5 million on wind turbines that failed, and a judge says it was not the fault of the manufacturer, installers, or consulting engineers as suit claimed

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the New York State Thruway Authority against the manufacturers, installers, and consultants involved with a project aimed at powering facilities with wind power, but which turned out to be a failure.  

The New York State Thruway Authority, as part of the push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for agencies to move toward so-called “green energy” sources, installed several wind turbines in 2015, projecting it would save $300,000 a year in utility costs.

Even if that was true, it would take 16 years for the nearly $5 million investment to pay for itself.

That's if they worked.

But within a couple of years, four of the five wind turbines erected to power toll plazas and other Thruway facilities near exits between Eden-Angola and the Pennsylvania state line had failed.

The Thruway had hoped that due to their proximity near the shore of Lake Erie, prevailing winds at these locations make them well-suited for wind power generation.

However, it was the winds at these locations that made the failed turbines unsuitable for the conditions in the region, because they can't stand up to the wind shears there.

Following our original report on the issue in April 2018, the New York State Thruway Authority filed a lawsuit against several entities involved in the project.

More recently, the companies being sued by the Thruway Authority filed a motion to have the suit dismissed.

Primarily, they claimed that when seeking to purchase these particular turbines, the state was advised that it (the state) had to do studies on wind shear to ensure the type of turbines they were buying would stand up to prevailing conditions.

Further, the companies claim that the state was advised that if it failed to do the required studies, then there could be no warranty if the turbines if they failed.

The companies claim the state then went ahead and purchased the turbines and had them installed without doing the required studies and thus they cannot be held responsible for their failure.

On Tuesday, State Supreme Court Justice Richard M. Platkin, who sits in Albany, dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Thruway against each of the five parties it sued, including the manufacturer of the turbines, Vergnet, and Clough Harbor Associates which served as the engineers and designers of the wind turbine project.

In part of his ruling, Justice Platkin wrote,

“The record further establishes that Vergnet did not conceal or understate the limitations of its wind turbines or the assumed site conditions upon which it was proceeding. Nor did Vergnet attempt to dissuade CHA from assessing on-site wind conditions. To the contrary, in an email sent while the design process was underway, Vergnet reminded CHA “that turbulence intensity will have to be confirmed as soon as possible”.

In a statement, the Thruway Authority said, “We are disappointed in the judge’s decision to dismiss the case. The Thruway Authority was seeking to recover more than $8.1 million for the cost of the failed turbines and to recover damages for negligence, professional malpractice and breach of contract. We are reviewing the details of decision and will determine our next steps.”

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