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Fautly sensors delay troubled Potsdam power plant

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POTSDAM - Faulty sensors are to blame for the latest delay to the village’s troubled West Dam Hydro Plant.

The problematic sensors are responsible for measuring the speed of the turbine, according to Village Administrator David H. Fenton.

The sensors were supplied by Canadian Turbines Inc., the now-defunct company which is the cause of many of the project’s woes.

They were inconsistent and inaccurate, according to Mr. Fenton, making it impossible to properly control the system.

“We couldn’t really know what speed the generator was turning at, and we couldn’t get it to sync into the grid because of that,” he said.

The village has ordered replacements from another company. They are expected to arrive within the next week or two.

Once they are installed, the plant will once again be ready for testing. It should soon be ready to generate power and provide income for the village, Mr. Fenton said.

“The plant is pretty much ready to run except for that one element,” he said.

The project was started in 2008, with the expectation that it would be completed in about a year. It was expected to cost $3.5 million, a budget that has now swollen to about $4.8 million.

So far there has been no need to raise taxes to cover the unexpected extra costs, Mr. Fenton said. The initial $3.5 million came from a loan the village will be repaying until 2027.

The last few years have been filled with promises that the plant’s completion is just around the corner, only to be repeatedly stymied by unexpected roadblocks.

“Every time we think we’re making one step forward it’s two steps back sometimes,” Mr. Fenton said.

Last year the village announced power would be flowing by Sept. 27, a date that came and went. By December the plant was fully assembled, and the village expected to switch it on by the end of the year. The problems with the sensors and control system delayed the project once again.

Nonetheless, Mr. Fenton said power will be flowing long before the start of summer.

The most severe delays were caused by Canadian Turbines, which failed to provide key promised components and eventually dissolved completely.The village won over $6.8 million in a lawsuit against the company, but it is unlikely any of the money will ever be paid by the now-nonexistent Canadian corporation.

Once it is finally up and running, the 2.5-megawatt generator is expected to run for decades, providing a stable source of income for the village.

The ever-changing cost of electricity will determine how long it takes the generator to pay for itself, but Mr. Fenton said the village is in talks to find a private buyer that would buy the power at a fixed cost.

“We don’t expect to sell into the open market for very long,” he said.

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