As the turbine turns

Problem with bearing resolved; fix on the horizon

The blades on Bayonne’s wind turbine may soon be turning again. The apparent problem that led to the breakdown of a piece with a 20-year lifespan that died after only three years has been solved.
The turbine, known as “the windmill” to many Bayonne residents, has not been working since last June when it was shut down due to the detection of vibrations.
Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority Executive Director Tim Boyle said that repeated requests for the replacement bearing uncovered what may be the reason for the original malfunction.
There were multiple calls between him and Suez, the city’s water provider and turbine overseer.


“It will come to us and we can do the job, which is right now tentatively scheduled for March 1.” – Tim Boyle

Boyle said that continued communications with Leitner-Poma of America in Colorado revealed that the steel used for the turbine probably was not strong enough.
Originally, Boyle was told that Leit-Wind, the Austrian manufacturer and sister company of Leitner-Poma Italy, shipped the replacement part in the fall and that it failed a quality assurance check. But after more inquiries, Boyle discovered that the replacement bearing was rejected by the parent company not once, but five times, from when the turbine stopped working in June until December. At that point, the problem was solved.
The issue seems to be its “steel tolerance,” or that the steel used for the part was not strong enough, according to Boyle.
“The manufacturer was using the wrong steel tolerances; different types of steel,” he said. “You wouldn’t use the same thing for rebar that you’d use in a bearing in high-quality machines. I understood that it meant different grades of steel.”
Because the problem appears to be solved, the repair can now move forward. Boyle said the new, stronger part was shipped from Italy on Feb. 5, and that it would take about two weeks to get to the United States. After its arrival in the U.S. and inspection at Customs, the city will receive the part about a week later.
“It will come to us and we can do the job, which is right now tentatively scheduled for March 1,” Boyle said.

Agencies to be marshaled

The work to install the piece will require the closing of the 5th Street entrance to Route 440.
The BMUA, Mayor’s Office, and the city departments of Police, Fire, Office of Emergency Management, Emergency Medical Services, and Public Works will all be involved in preparing for the project. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office will be notified as well.
“We have to include the Port Authority because of the Bayonne Bridge work at the south end of town, and the Turnpike at the other end because of work at the toll plaza and the effect on Global [Terminal] operations,” Boyle said. “The north end could be impacted because of truck jams, and the south end with the work on the bridge. And we have to take a road out of service. Nobody here wants to do anything until we all get on the same page.”
If all the agencies are onboard for the March 1 date, the BMUA anticipates about a six- to eight- hour road closure on one day at the East Fifth Street entrance to Route 440. It will take five days to complete the total installation.
Leitner-Poma or a subsidiary of it will do the repair work.
Onsite prep work will include the removal of the fence around the turbine grounds at 5th Street and Route 440, possibly as early as this week.
Engineers found a way to swap out the bearing by taking apart only one blade, not dismantling the whole unit.
The process requires two crane operators working in concert with staff at the top of the turbine to lower the blade to the ground with a sling.
Boyle said that the repeated quality-assurance failures for the bearings was not a bad thing.
“For me it was good news; it wasn’t five replacement parts in a row that there were problems with,” he said. “You don’t have to be an engineer to read between the lines that this wasn’t looking good for them [the manufacturers]. The first one probably didn’t have the right tolerance as well.”

Repair bill still up in the air

Boyle said that both the BMUA and Suez may be off the hook for the estimated $298,000 repair costs.
“We don’t know yet if the city still has to pay,” he said. “If the replacement part was sent with incorrect tolerances five times in a row, it bodes well that Bayonne may not have to pay for this. There’s a much stronger likelihood that it was done incorrectly the first time as well.”
But Boyle said protecting the city’s turbine, a $6 million to $7 million asset, is well worth it. The turbine was built largely from grant money.
“It saves the city between $250,000 and $300,000 a year in energy, money the city didn’t have to spend on energy,” he said. “Even in the end if we have to pay, it’s still clearly worth fixing.”

Joseph Passantino may be reached at

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