A wind turbine on the not-yet-opened Klondike III wind farm east of the town of Wasco snapped in half Saturday, killing a maintenance worker at the top who fell to his death. A second worker inside the 242-foot-tall shaft was injured.
The turbine broke about 4 p.m. Saturday a little more than halfway up the nearly hollow tube that holds the blades, said Geremy Shull, a Sherman County sheriff’s deputy.
It was the first death associated with a wind turbine collapse in Oregon.
While fire, ice and storms can damage turbines, they rarely fall over.
Last year, a wind gust bent and twisted a similar tower at the Condon Wind Project, a joint venture in Gilliam County between SeaWest Windpower of San Diego and Bonneville Power Administration, in operation since 2002. No one was injured in that case.
The Condon turbine was being shut down during a wind storm when the accident occurred, said Laura Pryor, the county executive at the time.
“You know those cardboard rolls that hold paper towels? If you bend those, you get a kink. That’s what happened with ours,” she said.
A turbine collapsed last January in northern Japan. In May 2005, a wind turbine in Weatherford, Okla., broke in half and fell over in light winds.
Shull said the workers’ names were not available. But he did say the man who died was from Goldendale, Wash., and the injured man was from Minnesota. He was taken to Mid-Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles for treatment of injuries that were not life-threatening.
A spokeswoman for the turbine’s German manufacturer, Siemens, said a third worker at the base of the turbine tube escaped injury. The dead man was a Siemens employee and the injured man was a contractor, said Melanie Forbrick, a Siemens spokeswoman in Orlando, Fla. The third man also worked for Siemens.
Shull said the cause of the collapse had not been determined Sunday. Officials of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had arrived at the wind farm to investigate.
“It was a fully erected wind turbine, but it hadn’t been in operation, and the people working on it were maintenance technicians,” Shull said.
Hundreds of the turbines are going up in wheat fields and other windy areas of Oregon and Washington. This year alone, Oregon developers are on track to more than double the wind power generated by turbines in the Columbia River Gorge. The construction boom is expected to continue through 2008 or longer if Congress extends a federal tax credit.
The Klondike III wind farm is the third phase of a spread east of the town of Wasco in rural Sherman County. The farm operator is PPM Energy in Portland. Spokeswoman Jan Johnson referred all questions about the collapse to Siemens.
Forbrick said the company declined to release the names of the dead and injured workers out of respect for their families.
“The workers were performing what we call a 500-hour inspection,” she said, which is customary maintenance.
Forbrick said she believes that no Siemens wind turbine has collapsed before. Siemens got into the wind-energy business in 2004 when it bought a Danish power company.
Klondike III is scheduled to open this fall with 124 turbines, 44 made by Siemens and 80 by General Electric. Forbrick said turbines like the one that collapsed can produce 2.3 megawatts of electricity. When it is up and running, the Klondike wind farm is expected to produce 221 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 96,000 homes.
In April, the American Wind Energy Association ranked Oregon eighth in the nation for wind-energy development.
Matthew Preusch of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report.
By Anne Saker
The Oregonian Staff
27 August 2007