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Faulty 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 project.

The problematic sensors are responsible for measuring the speed of the turbine, according to Village Administrator David H. Fenton. They were supplied by Canadian Turbines Inc., the now-defunct company that village officials have blamed for many of the project’s woes.

The sensors were inconsistent and inaccurate, Mr. Fenton said, making it impossible to control the system properly.

“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.

After the new sensors are installed, the plant once again will be ready for testing. It soon should 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 started in 2008, with the expectation that it would be completed in about a year. It was expected to cost $3.5 million, an estimate that has now expanded 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 was provided through 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, but work was stymied by unexpected technical setbacks.

“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 promised key components and eventually dissolved. The village won more than $6.8 million in a lawsuit against the company, but it is unlikely that any of the money will ever be paid by the now-nonexistent 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, Mr. Fenton said, but the village is in talks to find a private buyer who would purchase the generated power at a fixed cost.

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

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