Rooftop Wind Turbines Fail at Toledo Government Center, Taxpayers Stuck with Bill

Published February 1, 2013

Experimental wind turbines installed at taxpayer expense on the Michael V. DiSalle Government Center in Toledo failed less than two years after installation and are now sitting unused. Renewable energy advocates had promised the rooftop wind turbines would save taxpayers thousands of dollars each year in reduced electricity costs for the building.

Turbines Quickly Failed

The turbines ceased to spin and generate energy in March 2012. Beth Gianforcaro, state Development Services Agency (DSA) spokeswoman, reported the government agency deactivated the turbines due to maintenance and performance issues.

When Helix Wind Corp.—the manufacturer and installer of the turbines on the DiSalle Center—went bankrupt, state officials were left unsure of whether it was even possible for the turbines to be repaired.

Failed Promises

State officials approved the purchase of the wind turbines at the recommendation of the Ohio Building Authority (OBA). OBA owned the 22-story Government Center at the time and received praise for its embrace of green energy. Renewable energy advocates claimed the $224,300 wind turbines would save taxpayers money.

Toledo Mayor Michael Bell, the city’s first politically unaffiliated mayor, also praised the project, saying “the wind turbines are a step in the right direction.” 

OBA assistant executive director Mark Haberman told reporters the turbines would save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars each year in electricity costs. According to Haberman, the project was supposed to save enough taxpayer money to justify the investment after 15 years, roughly halfway through the turbines’ predicted operating lifespan.

Ominous Signs

Even before the turbines stopped spinning, however, there were ominous signs the renewable energy advocates could not back up their promises. For example, even spinning at full efficiency the wind turbines would only be able to produce 0.0035 percent of the building’s typical annual energy consumption. Even if the turbines had not failed, they still seemed unlikely to ever recoup their costs. 

Months before the state building authority authorized the contract with Helix, the California-based company reported to federal regulators it was deeply in debt and was unable to pay any of its bills. Another wind energy company, Sauer Energy, purchased Helix Wind’s assets in May 2012, primarily to acquire Helix’s vertical turbine designs.

Taxpayers on the Hook

Ohio state officials have tried to contact Sauer Energy about collecting on the warranty guaranteed by Helix Wind prior to its bankruptcy. However, nobody at Sauer Energy is responding to Ohio officials. In the meantime, state and local taxpayers are left on the financial hook for the $224,300 wind turbine investment.

DSA officials report the state has been examining its options since March 2012, when the turbines were deactivated. Those options include repair, replacement, or removal of the turbines, most likely at additional taxpayer cost.

Jesse Hathaway ([email protected]) writes for Media Trackers Ohio. An earlier version of this article appeared at Reprinted with permission.