An investigation into what caused a half-ton chunk of a wind turbine blade to snap off and crash into a field has dubbed a “manufacturing fault”. The verdict has caused concern among windfarm protesters, who have asked whether there may be faults in other turbines across the Westcountry – many of which are situated close to houses and roads.
An investigation was launched by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in January after part of a 37m (121ft) blade sheared off a turbine at the Cold Northcott windfarm, near Launceston in North Cornwall.
According to eye witness Peter Townsend, strong winds were blowing, causing the blade to fly “a fair way” into a nearby field.
No one was hurt, despite the fact that the 22 turbines at the windfarm are in fields on both sides of the busy A395.
Parts of the defective turbine were taken to the HSE labs in Derbyshire for an investigation that took several months. Cumbria Windfarms, which operates the Cold Northcott site, also launched its own independent investigation.
Both inquiries concluded that there had been a fault in the lamination of the timber in the blade, which had caused it to snap.
Trevor Gait, from Cumbria Windfarms, said there was no way the three full-time maintenance and safety staff at Cold Northcott could have foreseen the accident. “This was just a catastrophic event that you could never plan for,” he said. “It is just like a tyre blowing out on a car – you cannot see it coming and it just happens.”
The defective turbine, a WEG MS3-500, was the only one of its kind in the UK and the other 21 turbines at the farm are WEG MS3-300 models.
Mr Gait said there were different manufacturing processes for the two models and there was no risk the fault was in the other turbines.
He said: “This was an extremely rare event. Nothing like it has happened at any of our other eight windfarms in our 13-year history. If it were to happen again it would be another one in a million event and the risk is very minimal.”
However, campaigners against windfarms remain concerned by the findings.
Brian Sanderson is a member of the Group Against Windfarm Proliferation, which is campaigning against proposals to put up turbines at Otterham in North Cornwall.
He said: “This goes to show that in any manufacturing process there can be faults, and that doesn’t even account for lightning strikes, which can splinter a turbine blade.
“The risk will always be there and that risk needs to be managed by keeping windfarms away from the public.”
Wind energy experts insist that turbines are subjected to rigorous testing and have a huge safety margin in terms of the strain they face.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding