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State's $10 Million Turbines In Gardner Not Producing Much Electricity

BOSTON (CBS) -- Wind turbines are popping up all across the state. They are touted as a cleaner solution to our energy needs, but WBZ-TV has discovered some turbines that haven't produced much electricity and they're costing taxpayers a bundle.

From his pumpkin patch, Bill Foster has had a front-row seat to the development of two massive wind turbines.

The state spent $10 million to build the windmills at the prison in Gardner.

The plan: Use the turbines to power the correctional facility and sell the extra electricity to National Grid. The windmills went up in 2011.

Shortsleeve: "What happened?"

Foster: "Nothing. They just sat there. Nothing happened ... nothing, nothing, nothing.

The problem with the project is power lines were not equipped to carry away the excess electricity, which delayed the project for two years. But finally, this past spring, those huge blades started turning.

Foster said it "was nice to see them running ... knowing that they were producing some electricity that didn't produce any pollution."

But it didn't last long.

Within weeks of beginning operations, one of the turbines was struck by lightning in May, and since then the windmills have been still.

No electricity.  No revenue.

David Tuerck of the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University said this scenario illustrates why the state should not be in the energy business. He said state officials have no strong incentive to see the projects succeed.

"There's just no reason for them to be in a hurry or to care whether they save taxpayers or ratepayers and money," Tuerck said.

"If it's in private hands, then someone needs to make money on it and so there's actually going to be attention paid to if the thing is working or not."

We went to the State House looking for answers but no one wanted to talk to us on camera about the troubled $10 million turbines. Not the senator or the state rep from Gardner, not even the state agency that oversees the project.

However, in an email, a spokesperson for the state Division of Capital Asset Management wrote: "The lightning strike in May was an act of nature, and (the turbine) is being repaired, for no cost."

The spokesperson went on to write that the turbine site would "produce 3 megawatts of power and is projected to save the prison system about $500,000 a year."

But when WBZ asked for figures on how much energy the turbines produced in the few weeks they were operational, we didn't get a response.

Bill Foster just wants taxpayers to get their money's worth from the project.

"They are always short on money. They are always wanting more taxes," he said. "Why don't they make the things that they have already spent the tax money on produce and earn income?"

The state promises the Gardner turbines will start spinning again this week.

We'll let you know.

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