I-Team: Wind Tower Project Rusting in Nevada Desert
By Nathan Baca, Investigative Reporter - bio | email
Wind towers are rusting in the Nevada desert.
CALIENTE, Nev. -- The future of Nevada's renewable energy network is rusting in the desert.
The I-Team discovered hundreds of power line towers lying on the ground.
Residents of Caliente, a small city north of Las Vegas in Lincoln County, said storage yards were filled with large amounts of power company equipment and had been sitting there for months.
At the storage yards are rusting towers and giant coils of metal wires that might make the average person seem small.
It's a far cry from the proclamations of leaders who believed those towers would put Nevada at the center of a renewable energy network by the end of 2012.
"With the building of this power plant and the transmission line to share power north and south (in Nevada), we will now be energy independent," NV Energy CEO Michael Yackira said.
But a design flaw was discovered -- a flaw so dangerous the towers remain on the ground for fear they'd rip themselves apart.
Engineering reports analyzed by the I-Team show wind forced the original towers to vibrate too much during strong winds. Extra wires were attached to anchor down the towers.
Late last year, a wind storm took out one of those modified towers, breaking it. A third effort hopes to strengthen the towers even more, but that design has yet to be widely tested in the field.
Tennessee-based engineering and building firm Thomas & Betts said the towers would use mostly American materials and create 400 construction jobs -- jobs that are hard to find in these storage yards.
The company declined to comment.
The engineering community specializing in wind is so small, every expert the I-Team approached was connected to the project. Several engineering teams also declined to comment.
NV Energy is asking Nevada regulators to increase the project's budget another $42 million, increasing the price tag to $552 million. The federal government gave the project a $343 million loan guarantee, meaning taxpayers are on the hook if the project fails.
NV Energy is funding the rest of the project. It is unclear how much of the increased costs NV energy would pass on to consumers.
The company did give customers a refund on the lower price of natural gas earlier this year. At the same time, they also raised money they charged customers to pay for building a new gas power plant.
NV Energy would not comment on the record for this report, except to say that the rust on the towers creates no structural danger.
Politicians and business leaders kept talking about Nevada's green energy future this election cycle. But that renewable power is not going anywhere until the problem can be fixed.
NV Energy added off-camera they want to emphasize the benefits of a power line network linking the western states with renewable energy. The utility added they can still finish building those towers by the end of 2013.
They will go in front of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission next week.