Cumbria’s oldest wind turbine has collapsed in what is thought to be the first such incident in the 29-year history of harnessing wind energy in the UK.
The Health and Safety Executive has been notified of the incident, which has prompted safety fears from Cumbria anti-windfarm campaigners.
Investigations have begun into what caused the 100ft-tall steel structure near Hesket Newmarket to crash to the ground.
The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), which represents over 98 per cent of UK wind energy firms, will be involved and has said it will act on any potential issues arising from investigations.
The turbine, thought to weigh around 11 tonnes, has been helping to provide power for J Stobart & Sons animal feed mill at Newlands for the last 19 years.
When installed it was only the second privately-owned wind turbine in the country.
But it collapsed, narrowly missing a country road, at around 11.30am last Friday while the plant was operating. No-one was hurt.
J Stobart & Sons, which has been operating for around 40 years, notified the HSE which will decide whether or not to carry out a full investigation.
Peter Stobart, one of the company’s directors, said investigations will be carried out by the contractor employed to maintain the turbine, as well as insurers.
Installing the turbine was an innovative development 20 years ago.
Mr Stobart said: “It is a sad end to this machine. It has been a great success in terms of what it generated. It produced an estimated 4.5 million units of electricity. It is unfortunate that it has met such a sad and sudden end.”
He added: “All those years ago it was a very innovative thing to do.
“We did it purely because we saw energy costs going up and, apart from what happened on Friday, it has been a tremendous success.”
Commenting on Friday’s incident, he added: “People said they heard something but no-one saw it come down.”
The collapse is likely to spark interest among windfarm campaigners and the renewable energy industry. Many turbines are said to have a lifespan of 25 years.
There are turbines in the west of the county at Oldside near Siddick, Flimby and Lowca and planning applications for more at Tallentire, Dearham and Westnewton among others.
Work recently restarted too on the off-shore Robin Rigg windfarm in the Solway Firth.
Ruth Walsh, chairwoman of Communities Opposing Lamonby Turbines, said: “The turbine was only 19-years-old.
“It was windy but only averagely so for these parts. We are extremely worried about this as it raises big questions about turbine safety, especially as the ones proposed for our village are over 100 metres tall.”
The BWEA is working with the manufacturer to try and understand why the turbine fell. A turbine has also collapsed in Scotland, but foul play was suspected there.
Graeme Cooper, health and safety technical officer with the BWEA, said: “Turbine failure is very rare so this is very important to us. This was a very small turbine with a very early design.We have to remember that the industry and designs have changed drastically, there have been 19 years of developments and improvements made.
“If there is any learning from this incident here it will be taken away and if there are any ways of improving turbine design then we will do it.”
By Kelly Eve
4 January 2008