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Xcel sues GE over turbine failure

Friday, February 7, 2014
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MINNEAPOLIS — Xcel Energy Inc. and other plaintiffs have sued General Electric Co., claiming it hid a known defect in a turbine that broke down at one of its plants and led to millions of dollars in losses.

The turbine failure happened at the Sherco 3 electric generator in Becker in 2011. The turbine was being tested after an outage when it began to vibrate and broke apart, starting a fire.

Xcel said the 22 months of repairs that followed cost more than $200 million, the Star Tribune reported.

Its lawsuit alleges that GE and its affiliates knew about a defect in its turbine blades for decades and had documented earlier failures and improved its design, but never told Xcel about the problem.

GE spokesman Shaun Wiggins called the claim of concealment "simply false."

Wiggins said 271 such turbines are operating under stresses similar to that of the Sherco unit, and only the Sherco unit suffered such a catastrophic failure. He said evidence will show it was operated outside recommended inspection and maintenance requirements.

The lawsuit was filed in Sherburne County District Court in November, but amended last week after GE lawyers argued the charges weren't specific enough to prepare a defense. The amended lawsuit accuses GE of fraudulent concealment, negligence and failure to warn. It doesn't seek specific damages.

Xcel is joined by the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, which owns 41 percent of the Sherco plant, and several insurers. "It was a lost opportunity to sell the power out of Sherco 3," said Dan Hayes, a spokesman for Southern Minnesota Municipal Power.

Xcel's 1.2 million electric customers were hit with $65 million in costs for replacement power during the repair, according to the lawsuit.

Sherco 3 is one of three units at the power station in Becker, about 45 miles northwest of Minneapolis. The coal-fired plant is the largest in the Upper Midwest.

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