Toppled turbine at Salty Brine was supposed to withstand much higher winds

A wind turbine collapsed at Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett. (photo: Kim Kalunian/WPRI)

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) – A day later there were still no answers on why a state-funded wind turbine that was supposed to withstand much bigger gusts toppled over during Tuesday’s storm.

A 100-foot tower holding up the turbine at Salty Brine State Beach in Narragansett was brought low by the storm, tearing through the roof of a small structure and leaving significant damage. A Department of Environmental Management official on the scene said it was “an amazing sight” to see 4-inch galvanized pipe “just snapped in half.”

The turbine was put up in 2010 as part of a renovation of Salty Brine’s bath house and celebrated that year at a ribbon-cutting headlined by then-Gov. Don Carcieri. Its $32,175 cost was covered by a grant from the state’s Renewable Energy Fund, which gets most of its revenue from a surcharge on electric bills.

At a news conference during the storm, Gov. Gina Raimondo pledged to have the turbine fixed. DEM spokeswoman Gail Mastrati had little to add Wednesday, saying the department is still assessing what to do but will likely remove it, at an unknown cost.

This isn’t the first time the Salty Brine turbine has had problems. Mastrati confirmed it was temporarily deactivated in February 2015 after being damaged in another winter storm, but said it was later reactivated.

Mastrati declined to say if DEM still considers purchasing the turbine to be money well spent.

The turbine was manufactured by Bergey Windpower of Norman, Oklahoma. Mike Bergey, the company’s president, told Eyewitness News the machine was designed to withstand 130 mph wind speeds – yet meteorologists say the winds never topped 60 mph on Tuesday.

Bergey said that after reviewing the video from Narragansett he suspected the problem was due to bolts about 20 feet up the tower giving way, but he acknowledged he wasn’t certain.

A Middletown firm, Northeast Engineers and Consultants, assembled the turbine. Its president, Daniel Szymanski, told Eyewitness News his company hasn’t touched the structure since it was built in 2010, and DEM was responsible for maintaining it.

“I’m not going to speculate on what happened over the last seven years,” he said.

Mastrati said DEM is still looking into when the turbine was last inspected or worked on.

The company that oversaw the entire Salty Brine renovation was Providence-based Iron Construction Group. Its president, Steven DePasquale, said he had reviewed the architectural plans and noted that a device was later affixed to the turbine tower that was not originally planned for. But he emphasized that he did not know the cause of Tuesday’s collapse and was not trying to apportion blame.