MPCA fines Suzlon wind rotor firm $490,000

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2011 - 9:38 PM

The state said the Pipestone maker of rotors for wind turbines violated environmental rules.

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A Suzlon 950-kilowatt wind turbine owned by Juhl Energy in Pipestone, Minn.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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It was a case of clean energy polluting the environment.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has slapped a $490,000 fine, one of its largest, on Suzlon Rotor, the Pipestone, Minn., manufacturer of wind-power electricity generation equipment.

While capturing wind energy with Suzlon's giant wind turbine blades didn't pollute, the manufacturer of the equipment did, according to a consent agreement between Suzlon and the MPCA that was filed in Pipestone County District Court.

The agreement, in which Suzlon agreed to correct its manufacturing problems at unspecified costs, detailed violations involving air quality, hazardous waste, solid waste and the handling of storm water runoff.

Brad Wiggins, Suzlon's regional manager in Pipestone, couldn't be reached for comment, and a Chicago spokeswoman for Suzlon didn't return a call.

The fine comes as Suzlon's parent company, based in India, has been laying off workers in Pipestone. After surging to nearly 500 workers as the market for giant wind turbine blades took off in the mid-2000s, employment has dropped to about 30 people at the plant. Suzlon laid off 110 workers there late last year.

The MPCA said that, in 2009, sandblasting operations at the plant "far exceeded emissions standards for airborne particles." In addition to sandblasting without a permit, Suzlon did so without using air emission control equipment, the MPCA said. The company also stored sandblasting waste material outdoors in uncovered piles, where it was exposed to storm water runoff, without having the correct permit, the MPCA said.

In addition, Suzlon failed to properly evaluate its waste for hazardous substances, or to correctly handle hazardous waste, MPCA said. Included in those violations were claims that Suzlon improperly sent damaged turbine blades containing lead to a landfill; the lead was subsequently recovered from the landfill, the MPCA said.

The company was ordered to stop sandblasting, evaluate hazardous wastes, dispose of lead properly, prepare a storm water pollution prevention plan and obtain all necessary permits.

The $490,000 fine wasn't Suzlon's first. In 2008, the company paid a $19,000 fine for violating air quality rules by failing to obtain an air quality permit before the Pipestone facility was built.

The MPCA said the amount of the latest fine is based on the seriousness of the violation, whether it was a repeat violation and how soon it was reported to authorities. It also said fines are an attempt to recover the value of the economic benefit a company received by failing to comply with environmental laws.

Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553

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