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Thruway Authority sues maker of wind turbines that don't work

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Just a few years after the New York State Thruway Authority spent about $5 million on five wind turbines, four of them stand dormant. This is the wind turbine at Thruway Exit 59 at Fredonia.

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Four years after spending $5 million to install wind turbines at four highway exits, the New York State Thruway Authority is now suing the company, contractor and consultants who installed them because the machines haven't worked since last year.

The authority on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Vergnet Group S.A., Prudent Engineering LLP, Ravi Engineering & Land Surveying PC, Kandey Company Inc. and CHA Consulting Inc., citing the failure of four turbines along the Thruway in Chautauqua and Erie counties. The machines are located on authority property at exits 61, 59, 58 and 57A.

The turbines were installed in 2013-2014 as part of a renewable energy program designed to generate enough power to save the authority as much as $420,000 a year on energy bills. The authority spent $500,000 on design and up to $4.8 million on installation. But the machines went offline between October 2017 and January 2018 because of mechanical issues.

The suit alleges negligence, professional malpractice, breach of warranty and breach of contract. The authority seeks to recoup $8.1 million from the installation and operation of the two-blade machines, plus interest, costs and collection fees. The state Attorney General's Office is handling the litigation for the authority.

According to the lawsuit, West Seneca-based Kandey was selected to install the turbines through a competitive bidding process, and hired Vergnet, a French company that manufactured the machines. But Vergnet was placed in receivership more than a year ago because of severe cash flow problems, and was taken over by a consortium of five companies led by asset management firm Arum International.

Albany-based CHA Consulting – formerly Clough Harbor & Associates LLP – provided preliminary engineering services, final design services and construction support for the project, while East Syracuse-based Prudent Engineering provided construction inspection services for the installation. Prudent also served as a subconsultant to Ravi Engineering for program management, monitoring and maintenance services.

Joe Kandefer, vice president at Kandey, the general contractor on the project, said the company has not yet received the lawsuit, but insisted that Kandey had "complied in all respects with the contract documents," which required purchase of the specific windmills from Vergnet, "with no substitution allowed."

"We were not negligent in any way whatsoever," Kandefer said by email. "Kandey Company purchased the windmills from Vergnet, as required, and properly installed and tested them. At this time, we are unaware of the details as to why the windmills are offline, but Kandey Company is confident that we did nothing wrong and will be vindicated in court."

None of the other companies could be reached for comment Thursday except for Ravi, which declined to comment.

A fifth turbine, installed near Exit 60 at the Westfield Maintenance Facility, was manufactured by a different company, Northern Power Systems of Vermont, and is still operating. It is not part of the lawsuit.

Four of NYS Thruway's costly wind turbines stand idle. Why?


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