A Times investigation found the department has little to show for its coast-to-coast attempt at wind energy development.
Starting in 2009, the VA system studied 14 sites across the U.S. for wind energy projects. Four sites were selected, one of which was the
Five years later, just one of those sites -- a veterans cemetery in
Efforts to build wind energy systems to power VA facilities in
VA officials gave individual reasons for why each project faltered. What's still unclear is if broader issues with the VA wind effort contributed to so much going wrong in so many places -- all while the U.S. wind-power industry was experiencing historic success.
In the meantime, U.S. taxpayers are left in the lurch. Much of the more than
The VA system already is smarting from months of bad publicity. National outrage followed reports that veterans may have died waiting for care at VA medical facilities, while audits found a pattern of fraudulent scheduling practices.
"The VA isn't exactly being held up as a paragon of administrative excellence," Ellis said. "This is an agency that's had troubles over the years.
"It's not that surprising that if they fail at their primary mission, something secondary like generating energy from wind projects, they're going to fail at that as well."
How it started
The seeds for the VA's troubled foray into wind energy development were sown in 2009 and 2010, shortly after passage of the federal stimulus act.
It was part of a broader push under President
Wind projects were just a small part of the picture. Most projects were solar or geothermal energy or sustainable building certifications.
The renewable-energy projects were meant to help VA meet a goal of drawing 15 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2013. A subsequent order from Obama, issued in late 2013, raised the bar to 20 percent renewable energy use for all federal agencies by 2020.
After the wind energy feasibility studies were conducted, VA officials picked four sites for wind energy projects: VA health care centers in
One of those sites,
VA officials predicted the wind projects would help VA facilities reduce energy bills while creating environmental benefits.
"Ensuring the sustainability of our facilities across the country allows us to use energy-efficient buildings to accomplish our primary mission -- serving veterans," then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs
An unexpected turn
The Big Apple was one of the places where the VA's wind development efforts were set to make a splash.
But the project there took an unexpected turn. A wind energy system wouldn't work at its initial location, the Manhattan Campus of the
VA officials then pivoted to a plan to install the system at the
It all started when VA officials in 2010 announced a pair of wind projects: a five-turbine, 20-kilowatt wind energy system at the Manhattan VA campus and a 10-kilowatt system at the
The plan for the
VA officials decided last summer to install those turbines instead at the
VA officials said Friday they completed design work on the project and published a request for proposals for it. But they didn't receive any feasible proposals.
The department "is evaluating potential courses of action at this time," according to a statement issued Friday.
The project was canceled in 2013 after the discovery of "unforeseen structural issues for the roof where the wind turbine was planned to be installed," according to the national VA public affairs office. About
But an engineer at the
After that, Jones said he and other engineers in
"We didn't feel it was worth the effort" to find another manufacturer, given the small amount of energy savings anticipated from the project, Jones said.
Of the four wind projects launched by the VA system, only the
The 50-kilowatt machine, dedicated in 2011, was anticipated to generate as much as 95 percent of the energy needed to power the
The turbine is outperforming projections. It produced more than twice as much power as the VA system expected, according to the VA's national public affairs office. About
St. Cloud VA's wind turbine has yet to live up to expectations
A hulking 600-kilowatt turbine at the
At a cost of more than
Instead, the turbine, manufactured by
St. Cloud VA spokesman
Venable wouldn't say when, if ever, the turbine will generate power. VA already has paid out about 99 percent of the
"I wouldn't care to characterize things in terms of a timeline," Venable said. "In terms of what we do here every day, we're more focused on taking care of veterans.
"Not to say the turbine's not receiving appropriate emphasis. It is. But it's an object out there, of concern."
Venable wouldn't say if the VA is pursuing litigation in connection with the project.
"It would be inappropriate from both parties' perspectives to comment on your question," he said. "If it were to come to that, it would be the lawyers speaking to that, not me."
Ellis, from the nonpartisan watchdog group, says the
Funds for stimulus projects needed to be disbursed swiftly to deliver the economic jolt that was the act's purpose. At the same time, accountability for those funds needed to be assured.
"If they bought a lemon, they need to demand that they make some lemonade," Ellis said.
Meanwhile, local wind experts such as
The turbine's motionless blades tower over
"All you're doing is hurting the public's perspective on green energy that does work," Grell said.
How should the
HOW WE GOT THE STORY
The Times investigation of the
After learning about the VA wind projects outside of
Most of the information in the story came from inquiries or Freedom of Information Act requests to VA officials. Some came from VA news releases and other official documents. And some came from interviews with VA employees or other experts.
Visit www.green.va.gov to learn about the
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