Northern Ireland

Design snag causes wind turbine shutdown

Damaged assembly
Image caption The warning came after damage to blade assemblies

The owners of a French-made wind turbine have been advised to keep people away from them after bits started falling off.

The Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive gave the warning and advised the 17 owners to lower the turbines the ground.

The warning came after the blade assembly fell off several machines.

Trading Standards reported Eoltec to French product safety authorities after angry owners got no response.

The problem seems limited to the company's Scirocco 6kW model.

William McGaughey, whose turbine fell to bits in November, explained what seems to have happened: "We're led to believe there has been a design problem. The nuts that hold the turbine to the hub completely sheered.

"The company, as far as we're led to believe, have replaced this with a new design of hub but unfortunately we are finding trouble getting our hands on this new hub."

Owners of other Eoltec Scirocco turbines in Northern Ireland met to discuss what they should do next after their approaches to Eoltec had no result.

Up to three distributors were involved across Ireland selling the product. The BBC understands that two have since closed down. The remaining company says its also struggling to get answers and parts from Eoltec.

BJRE, a former distributor based in Orkney, were eventually so frustrated they approached their local Trading Standards office to see if they could help.

Challenge

The BBC contacted Eoltec in France to find out more.

In an email the company president, Jacques Souquet, claimed the issue was very problematic for them for several reasons saying, "notably we are not an installer, we have no resources to address that kind of problem, we are located in France."

They also claimed that no one had passed the customers names and addresses on to them.

But the former Scottish distributor challenges this. They say they have passed all the customers details on more than once to Eoltec. The BBC also knows that individual customers have contacted the company directly as long ago as last November and still await any reply.

Customers also say that the former Scottish distributor has been very helpful but has told them it can get no results or parts from Eoltec.

This seems to be confirmed by Trading Standards in Orkney who told the BBC that "the first report of potential problems with the turbines to the council's trading standards unit came from the then-local distributor who has co-operated fully with trading standards and is continuing to supply evidence."

We contacted Eoltec again to point out the claims that all the requested information had been sent to them more than once.

We also wanted confirmation that the faulty components had been redesigned and asked why parts hadn't been sent on. But we too got no reply.

When I visited William McGaughey he was sitting at a table going through a pile of paperwork. His turbine lay on its side in the nearby field - its hub and blades lay broken by the side of the house.

Concerns

Image caption The owners of 17 turbines have been ordered to lower them

"We could take legal action if it comes to that," said William. "We're happy enough to band as a team and take a class action but we don't want to do that. All we want is the spare parts to get our turbines up and running again and I don't think that is too much to ask for."

Orkney Trading Standards told the BBC that given the public safety concerns, they "have forwarded their evidence and evidence from customers to the UK government's RapEx (product safety) unit for pursuing with their French counterparts".

In support of customers who have reported problems, trading standards has also referred the matter to the European Consumer Centre for pan-European consumer complaints.

Every day that passes the turbine owners lose an opportunity to generate electricity to repay their investment.

"It's an awful waste of energy", says William McGaughey. "It's energy that could be supplied into the grid and for their own use."

But it seems that in the meantime all the turbine owners can do is generate frustration while they await an outcome.

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