NPR Story
12:08 pm
Thu November 14, 2013

A Turbine That Toppled In A Windstorm

The weekend before last I was out running errands around the Tri-Cities, and it was impossible to ignore the wind. Trees swayed side-to-side in a strange yoga-like dance. Shopping carts raced across parking lots. Dust clouded the air like an early morning fog.

About 40 miles away, a wind turbine bent in half.

The East Oregonian reported the story last week, and that got me to wondering: How can a turbine meant to sustain and use wind simply blow over? How often does this happen?

Click here for a photograph contributed to the East Oregonian.

According to the paper, the wind turbine was 10 years old and spilled 50 gallons of fluid in the area.

The turbine is a part of NextEra Energy Resources outside Touchet, Wash. Steve Stengel, the company's communications director, spoke with the paper about the fluid:

“This is just lubricant for these machines,” he said. “I don’t want to downplay the incident but I also want to assure people there is no safety issue here.”

Stengel said the turbines are built to withstand the 60 mph winds that caused it to topple. He said turbines shut off when wind speeds reach 55 mph. He said no other turbines have fallen over at the wind farm since it was built in 2001.

Other turbines have toppled at wind farms around the world. Here are articles from Devon, England, Maas, Ireland outside of Kilkenny, and Kyoto Prefecture, Japan.

Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, an advocacy group based in Scotland, has complied a detailed list dating back to 1980 of wind farm accidents around the world.

The group found that structural failure, often resulting from storm damage, is the third most common cause of accidents at wind farms. Blade failure and fire are the top two reasons for accidents, the group said:

"While structural failure is far more damaging (and more expensive) than blade failure, the accident consequences and risks to human health are most likely lower, as risks are confined to within a relatively short distance from the turbine. However, as smaller turbines are now being placed on and around buildings including schools, the accident frequency is expected to rise," the report stated.

NextEra Energy has not responded to requests for comment. I'll update with their comments when I receive them.

-- Courtney Flatt

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