Wind Turbines Generate Electricity and Controversy: a series on whats in the wind.
Opponents objections and concerns regarding wind turbines can be listed in eight distinct categories: Visual,
Noise, Intermittent Power, Bird/Bat deaths, Altering Vegetation, Fire, Ice and Pollutants. In this article, Wind Farm – Cons, Part 4 the discussion is Fire, Ice and Pollutants.
You may have missed the news that April 3rd 2012 was International Protest Day Against Wind Turbines. The Ontario Wind Resistance web site announced “On April 3rd, 2012, groups from Ontario will mobilize to show their discontent. In Germany other groups will act in various ways to express their solidarity with their Canadian colleagues, and with all the others that are fighting against wind power fascism across the world.” They claim that there are 2,800 citizen groups fighting the corruption, the speculation and the violence to populations carried out in the name of wind power. 745 Supporter websites are listed as participants. Quixotes Last Stand posted pictures and video of a protest march at the Canadian Auto Workers by citizens of Port Elgin, Canada that want a wind turbine erected at the auto plant removed. Reading the comments at the tail of these web sites and following links gives a clear picture of the state of mind of these protesters.
Other protests against wind turbines followed such as the “rebellion” in Edinburgh, Scotland. They need support to make the Government take notice and have a moratorium on any future developments of wind turbines until they can prove that the construction of wind farms are safe, reliable, cost effective, save CO2 and will not destroy rural life and tourism jobs. An inquiry is being held into the Scottish Government’s Renewables Target, where Donald Trump and CATS (Communities Against Turbines Scotland) will be giving evidence (yes that Donald Trump). thebiggreenlie a site that claims to be bringing truth to environmental initiatives says that “ANY political leader who has bought into a Green Agenda for his electorate has also bought into the plan to give up their Sovereignty to a non-elected Government that is intent on controlling all the power in the World!”
With so many groups opposed to wind power there must be some basis for their concerns. As discussed in previous posts many individuals are being misled by pseudo science, alarmists and moneyed interests but fear and personal safety are legitimate concerns that should not be taken lightly. Photographs and video are now widely distributed of wind turbine fires that look extremely dangerous and reports of ice being hurled as if from a catapult would frighten anybody.
Bangor Daily News report by Clyde MacDonald, June 29, 2011: “Despite all that has been written about wind power, a vitally important issue has barely been mentioned. When turbines fail, blades may fall to the ground or send fragments that land up to a mile away. Turbines often catch fire, and when they do they often send flaming shards into fields and forests. Much has been said about the short-term jobs created in preparing turbine sites, but almost nothing about job losses from turbine-caused fires in our paper mills, sawmills and other forest-dependent industries. Official information on the number and severity of turbine-induced forest fires remains largely secret and unavailable.”
A wind turbine on the home of Texas State Representative Susan King experienced mechanical failure in October 2011. The turbine’s blades continued to spin even as the engine sparked, ignited and spewed gouts of flame across a two-acre swath of the senator’s property. Crews responding to the emergency needed eight trucks to contain the blaze.
On Christmas Eve 2005, a wind turbine at the Nissan car plant in Sunderland, UK caught fire at the top, spreading slowly to the sails before finally burning out. Both lanes of the nearby A19 trunk road had to be closed to traffic because of the danger caused by the wind turbine fire. The towers of the wind turbine are 200 feet high, so they were not accessible to fire crews.Eventually, all 3 of the 75 foot long blades, or what was left of them, dropped off.The 6 wind turbines were bought second hand from Germany, and there are many reports of fires in other turbines on the Internet. Wind turbines in the Netherlands,Palm Springs CA, Hornslet near Aarhus, Denmark, and Burgos in Spain have all had accidents involving fire. Reported by WAG (Wind Farm Action Group).
In a December 2009 incident in Uelzen, Germany, a fire occurred in a wind turbine at a height of 130 meters (427 feet). The fire department closed off the the area and allowed the fire to burn out because it could not fight the fire at that height and had no other choice.
In recent years, China has seen many cases of wind turbines catching fire, as more and more wind farms go into operation. Chinese wind farms largely keep only a number of portable fire extinguishers in the turbine engine room and the bottom of the wind tower. The ground-based fire fighting apparatuses are helpless to control fire burning in the engine room, because they cannot reach the height.
December 2011 at Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, Scotland, a turbine exploded, spewing large pieces of flaming material on the ground below. In a statement,The windfarms operator, Infinis of Edinburgh said: “Infinis confirms that a nacelle on a turbine at its Ardrossan wind farm caught fire in extreme stormy weather conditions. Stuart McMahon a local photographer from Ardrossan captured amazing pictures the moment the huge wind turbine erupted in flames.
January 2012 a wind turbine caught fire in Altona, N.Y. Clinton County fire officials said people driving by the windfarm called in to report the fire. “We saw a flash and then heard a bang, just like a lightning strike,”The fire caught one of the blades and made it look like a Roman candle,” Phil Tucker said. “There was a snow squall that night, but we could see the flames burning right through it.”Altona Fire Chief Alan Mitchell was at the scene and said his volunteer department was unable to extinguish the blaze due to the turbine’s inaccessibility.”There was nothing we could do…the top of it was still burning when we left”
When turbine fires do occur at these massive towers, often 300 feet high there is little local fire departments can do. They have no equipment or hoses available that can reach the blazing nacelle as it burns out of control.
Wind turbine closed after showering homes with blocks of ice.
Robert A. Cook, Peterborough UK Evening Telegraph, December 02, 2008. Residents were left fearing for their safety after shards of melting ice fell on homes and gardens from the blades of a giant wind turbine. For about four hours people in King’s Dyke, Whittlesey, had to take cover as huge lumps – some two feet long – showered them from the 80 meter high tower on Saturday morning. (80 meters is about 270 ft). Resident Peter Randall, whose son’s house lies a stone’s throw away from the turbine, said: “Somebody is going to get killed. There was huge lumps of ice shooting off and landing everywhere.“No one wants to leave the house because they are frightened and worried about the ice falling. Maria Clark, who owns King’s Dyke Karpets, based yards from the turbine, said: ” The ice makes such a loud noise when it shatters we thought a bomb had gone off in the yard.”
GE one of the major manufactures of wind turbines in the United States acknowledges the danger of ice throw in their own literature. The accumulation of ice is highly dependent on local weather conditions and the turbine’s operational state. Any ice that is accumulated may be shed from the turbine due to both gravity and the mechanical forces of the rotating blades. An increase in ambient temperature, wind, or solar radiation may cause sheets or fragments of ice to loosen and fall, making the area directly under the rotor subject to the greatest risks. In addition, rotating turbine blades may propel ice fragments some distance from the turbine- up to several hundred meters if conditions are right. Falling ice may cause damage to structures and vehicles, and injury to site personnel and the general public, unless adequate measures are put in place for protection.
Wind turbines are causing deadly pollution.
Lloyd Mcgraw, Consumer Energy Report, April 21, 2010. The natural gas industry has produced a new report which claims that increased use of wind energy cause coal-fired power plants to “cycle” unconventionally and thereby cause an increase in the pollution levels they traditionally produce along Colorado’s Front Range. Bentek Energy LLC, a consulting company, for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, conducted the report titled “How Less Became More: Wind, Power and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market”. …Save Our Seashore 3/29/10 The report says that the greatly increased use of wind energy in the past few years may have raised pollution levels from coal and natural gas-fueled power plants owned by Xcel Energy Inc. That’s because the frequent change in output asked of power plants, in response to the availability of wind and solar power, adds to pollution, the report says.
Manufacturing a turbine will cause some pollution, assembling, erecting and connecting the turbine to the grid will cause some more. Servicing and maintenance of the turbine will also have a certain environmental impact. Running the turbine will generate noise and shadow flicker, which some people refer to as pollution.
26th January 2011 the UK newspaper The Daily Mail posted an article online by Simon Parry and Ed Douglas. They say ” The reality is that, as Britain flaunts its environmental credentials by speckling its coastlines and unspoiled moors and mountains with thousands of wind turbines, it is contributing to a vast man-made lake of poison in northern China. This is the deadly and sinister side of the massively profitable rare-earths industry that the ‘green’ companies profiting from the demand for wind turbines would prefer you knew nothing about. Industrial wind turbines require magnets for their generators that are manufactured using rare-earth metals produced in China. The by-product of this manufacturing process is a toxic sludge that is destroying the countryside in Northern China. This toxic lake poisons Chinese farmers, their children and their land.It is what’s left behind after making magnets for Britain’s latest wind turbines…[it] is merely one of a multiple of environmental sins committed in the name of our new green Jerusalem”
THIS IS SAVING THE PLANET?
The instances of wind turbine mishaps and accidents reported above are undisputed fact. It is true that turbines have caught fire. Yes ice can form on the tower and blades of turbines and fall off and yes some generators have permanent magnets that use neodymium a rare earth metal and yes again the manufacturing, transport and assembly does produce pollution. Because of these accidents and consequences at wind farms they get a big X by those critically opposed. In truth the cons are eXaggerated.
You may have seen this picture. Photographer Stuart McMahon, who took the incredible image said “These are huge structures and to see one on fire was a spectacular sight.” He said the blades on the 100m mast were not turning when he arrived. “The fire must have lasted 15 or 20 minutes until the fire brigade turned up to put it out” By then the fire had stopped. No personnel were injured. This accident occurred when a freak storm that ripped across Scotland with 165mph winds, brought the country to a standstill, trucks had been tipped over, it knocked out power to 50,000 homes, caused roads, bridges and ferries to be closed. A Google search for images of the Ardrossan wind farm fire shows 110,000 results! Don’t be conned, it was one turbine, one fire.
The Susan King home in Texas had a turbine fire with eight trucks required to battle the blaze? It included three different volunteer fire departments (she is a Texas State Representative) that quickly contained a dry grass fire that burned two acres.
At the Sunderland, UK Nissan fire crews set up a cordon on the A19 road (because visibility was poor due to smoke) and the 3 blades dropped off into a field and burned themselves out. A local resident said worry about the tower collapsing on the road was unlikely as the towers are 55m tall and the set back is 85m (1.5 times the height) which had been determined to be safe by the local council.
Blue Knob – Fire destroyed a windmill turbine at the Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm on top of the mountain. Lilly fire chief Robert Crum said it’s impossible to fight a fire at a turbine 250 feet above the ground, so firefighters set up a perimeter for safety reasons and extinguished brush fires that started when hot embers fell to the ground.
That is how it is done. Set up a perimeter a safe distance from the base of the turbine and as any burning embers fall to the ground they can be quickly extinguished. Many modern turbines now incorporate automatic fire suppression systems within the nacelle further limiting any danger. In the past 40 years 185 incidents of fire have been reported at wind farms. Compare that with 369,500 U.S. house fires in 2010, reported by the national Fire Protection Association or 15,000 yearly clothes dryer fires according to Consumer Reports. The Confederation of Fire Protection Associations in Europe (CFPA E) support renewable wind energy projects and has prepared the Wind Turbines Fire Protection Guideline that gives solutions, concepts and models to facilitate safety and fire protection work in associated European countries.
FIRE.What causes turbines to catch fire and how many fires have there actually been? The potential for fires is actually very low. They may be caused during construction or during maintenance by workmen. They can also start from sparks that emanate from turbine electrical equipment or lightening strikes. A popular site used by many anti-wind farm activists is the Caithness Wind Farm Information Forum. Statistics for every type of wind farm accident reported are categorized. They have actually compiled an extensive resource of 100 pages if you care to take a look.. Caithness lists 185 fires for wind farms since 1970. This number is not actually turbine fires but all fires reported at wind farms. A short review of the statistics reveal that a number of these fires reported are telephone poles, electrical panels and fires from other sources. Further review indicates many are non-industrial or very old model turbines. Caithness statistics include any type fire reported at a wind farm weather it be a welding incident, encroaching grass fire or human error. Equipment failure and lightening strikes do happen but are quite rare. There are approximately 165,000 turbines in operation today. Calculating a high estimate of 200 incidents (in 40 years) would equal 0.00121% chance of a wind turbine catching fire.
ICE. If fire is actually an infrequent occurrence at wind turbines what about ice throw? First of all turbine ice accumulation is limited to only those wind farms located where winter storm conditions or extremely low temperatures exist. Secondly engineers have minimized ice build up problems when designing the blades and by adding special coatings to the surface. A third mitigation strategy now used is the incorporation of heaters in the blades and mechanical components. Technical solutions for wind turbines operating at low temperatures and in icing climates are available. The International Energy Agency has published a report State-of-the-Art of Wind Energy in Cold Climates that provides guidelines and recommendations.
Ice can and does build up on turbine blades, however there are sensors in the mechanism that will detect any imbalance and automatically shut down the turbine. When the temperature rises either from the sun or heaters, ice begins to drop or be shed from the blades. The area directly below the turbine is the most affected by ice shed similar to any other building, tower or trees in the forest. Opponents of wind energy like to site the mathematics and physics equations of Professor Terry Matilsky, Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rutgers University. He can mathematically demonstrate how a perfectly formed Frisbee shaped piece of ice at the tip of the uppermost blade traveling at peak rotation velocity can sail a considerable distance. Its possible but highly unlikely. For more info about ice throw and an excellent no-hype article read this issue of Windletter by Mike Sagrillo. If you are concerned of danger from ice shedding at wind turbines it is best to follow the advice of GE – do not walk directly under or go hiking near turbines during an ice thaw.
POLLUTION. The manufacture, construction, transportation and assembly of wind turbines create pollution. Lets just skip this argument as unworthy of consideration. The manufacture, transportation, etc. of any product is going to produce some pollution. Turbine manufacturing is not a particularly dirty business and any impact is usually negated in three or for months of clean energy operation. The claims of shadow flicker, visual and noise pollution are more appropriately labeled a personal annoyance than being harmful to the quality of air, earth and water and make for a poor argument. Another dubious claim is that the “cycling” at power plants caused by wind farm energy production increases CO2 . In particular the study done for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States by Bentek LLC in Colorado has been proven to be controversial. Any claim that adding wind energy to the power grid would not reduce carbon dioxide emissions violates the laws of physics.
Whats the story with neodymium and rare earth metals used in turbines? Turbine generators that have permanent magnets in the assembly undoubtedly use neodymium. Neodymium magnets are the strongest permanent magnets known. Although neodymium is classified a “rare earth” metal it is widely distributed in the earths crust and is no rarer than cobalt, nickel and copper ore. Discovered in 1885 neodymium was first used commercially as a glass dye and still has some applications for tinted glass today, including use in goggles, some lasers and spectrometers. Primarily it is now used because of its super magnetic quality and mass to weight ratio. It is used in such products as microphones, loudspeakers, headphones, cell phones, computer hard drives, televisions, welding clamps, oil filters, battery operated tools, clasps of all types and also MRI technology, electric motors and generators in automobiles, airplanes and wind turbines. Neodymium is mined in the United States, Canada, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka and Australia. The main mining areas are in China where the government has an abysmal record of environmental protection.
In conclusion I would say anti-wind farm activists are using fire, ice and pollution as a con. Are these three elements dangerous at wind farms -yes. Do accidents happen-yes. Are they being eXaggerated-yes. Be wary of the hype, 110,000 images posted of one fire is still only one fire. I believe that engineers and designers would not willingly jeopardize million dollar projects carelessly and development of safe and efficient technologies continue to be implemented. To find out more about wind farms, how turbines work, the environmental and economic impact and lots more information read up on Wind FAQs.
Aloha and stay informed. Dohn