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Sensors blamed for Potsdam hydro plant holdup

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POTSDAM — The village has determined inadequate vibration sensors are to blame for the latest problems at the West Dam Hydro Plant, but the plant likely will still be connected to the grid and begin to produce power as officials wait for new parts.

The problem was discovered last week during testing, when the sensors decided a generator was shaking too much and triggered an emergency shutoff.

A closer look revealed the machinery was not actually shaking too violently. The sensors were too sensitive, according to Village Administrator David H. Fenton.

At first, it was uncertain whether the sensors themselves were at fault, or if they merely need to be repositioned or recalibrated. Now it appears to be the former, Mr. Fenton said.

Proper vibration sensors were supposed to be provided by Canadian Turbines, Burlington, Ontario, the now-defunct company the village hired to supply parts for the dam. The company never delivered many key components, including the sensors.

The village bought most of the remaining parts directly from other suppliers, but lacked the knowledge or expertise to determine exactly what kind of vibration sensors were needed. The village ended up buying parts that were not suited for the task.

“They really don’t work as well as they should,” Mr. Fenton said.

The hydropower plant is five years behind schedule and $1.3 million over budget. The village is shopping for experts to determine what needs to be purchased to fix the problem.

In the meantime, the plant is still capable of generating power, Mr. Fenton said.

The new plant is capable of generating about 900 kilowatts of electricity, which is expected to bring in $200,000 to $250,000 annually if sold on the open market.

The village is also in talks with an unidentified private buyer, which could lead to more reliable income.

It likely will be hooked up to the electrical grid within a week or two, Mr. Fenton said.

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