ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A $2.2 million wind turbine at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility in St. Cloud has been broken for years, and similar issues have plagued VA facilities in two other states.
The wind turbine at the St. Cloud VA Health Care System hasn't worked in two years, and workers have made a series of hydraulic and electrical repairs with no luck, the St. Cloud Times reported (http://on.sctimes.com/Z3KR4z ).
Barry Venable, a St. Cloud VA spokesman, wouldn't say when — if ever — the turbine will generate power.
"I wouldn't care to characterize things in terms of a timeline," Venable said. "In terms of what we do here every day, we're more focused on taking care of veterans. Not to say the turbine's not receiving appropriate emphasis — it is— but it's an object out there, of concern."
The VA system is already reeling from months of bad publicity. There were reports that veterans may have died while waiting for care at VA medical centers, and audits found evidence of fraudulent scheduling practices.
In 2009 the agency began studying 14 sites across the nation for wind-energy projects. The St. Cloud site and three others, in Massachusetts, Utah and New York, were selected.
But after five years and more than $3.7 million spent, efforts have fallen short at three sites. A veterans' cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts, has a working wind turbine, but the agency has blamed mechanical problems and poor site selection for failures at the other locations.
Steve Ellis, the vice president of the national watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the wind-turbine failures are another example of a government agency failing to be an effective steward of public funds.
"It's not that surprising that if they fail at their primary mission, something secondary like generating energy from wind projects, they're going to fail at that as well," he said.
VA officials had predicted the wind projects would help the agency's facilities cut energy bills while helping the environment.
But one Minnesota wind expert said the VA didn't do enough research. Charles Grell, who owns Gone 2 Green Wind & Solar in St. Cloud, said the VA ignored or didn't seek input from Minnesota wind farms. Grell, whose company installs small wind- and solar-energy systems, said the VA's failure threatens to send the wrong message that wind energy isn't feasible.
"All you're doing is hurting the public's perspective on green energy that does work," Grell said.