Fears over the safety of wind turbines in high winds have been raised after one burst into flames and another crashed to the ground.
Gusts of up to 165mph were recorded in the Cairngorms in Aberdeenshire as gales brought travel chaos to Scotland and the North.
A 100-metre tall wind turbine burst into flames in North Ayrshire, and in Coldingham in the Scottish Borders, a turbine crashed to the ground yards from a road.
The £2 million turbine in North Ayrshire was not believed to have been spinning at the time. Fires can occur if extreme wind loosens or breaks electrical connections, whether turbines are rotating or not.
Fraser McLachlan, the chief executive of GCube, a wind turbine insurer, said he was expecting a rise in turbine failures due to the “exceptional” weather in Scotland.
“We see turbine fires around the world when it gets very, very windy,” he said. “They usually shut themselves off as a safety feature if the wind gets too much. But sometimes there is another failure.
“It can catch on fire for a whole multitude of reasons. It can be the mechanism going into overdrive. It can be to do with the connections or oil catching alight.”
He said older models of turbine were more susceptible to faults in bad weather.
Modern turbines usually have a safety braking mechanism that turns the blades off if wind speeds reach 56mph.
The turbine in North Ayrshire was believed to belong to the renewable power company Infinis. It was one of 15 built to supply 20,000 homes.
In a statement, Infinis said: “Infinis confirms that a nacelle on a turbine at its Ardrossan wind farm, Ayrshire, Scotland, caught fire this afternoon in extreme stormy weather conditions. The fire had extinguished itself before the fire services arrived and did not result in personal injury.
“As a standard precautionary measure, all Infinis staff vacate wind farms when wind speeds exceed 55mph and therefore no one was present on site at the time of the incident.
“The local distribution network operator, Scottish Power, was immediately notified of the incident and the site has been disconnected from the electricity network as a precautionary measure. The cause of the fire is not yet known and Infinis has taken immediate steps to investigate the incident fully.”
Stuart McMahon, a graphic designer who caught the fire on camera, said: “It was pretty spectacular. The turbine was in flames in the middle of all the rest of them. As it was burning, there were pieces flying off and getting blown across the hillside.”
Robert Norris, the head of communications at Renewable UK, the trade association for the wind industry, described the incident as ”a small fire which lasted a short time’’. He added: ”The cause is being investigated and until we have more information it is unhelpful to speculate on the cause.
“The wind industry always maintains the highest standards of health and safety, which is why incidents like this are extremely rare.’’
Earlier this year, it emerged that wind turbines would be switched off for 38 days every year because they struggle to cope with power surges during high winds. Martin Livermore, director of the Scientific Alliance, said: “What we should be worried about is the fact these wind turbines cannot generate electricity when the wind is too strong so a lot of the time, they are not actually saving any fossil fuels.”
Scotland was badly affected by gales and heavy rain that also struck northern England.
Thousands of schools in all but six of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas closed by lunchtime to allow pupils to get home safely.
Glasgow and Edinburgh airports each had 17 flights cancelled and a further four planes had to be diverted from Edinburgh. The winds forced the closure of every major bridge in Scotland, including the Forth Road Bridge.
Last night, almost 60,000 Scottish homes were without power.
The Environment Agency issued seven flood alerts in northern England. In Cumbria, motorists got stuck in floodwater in Ambleside, Windermere, Troutbeck and Selside. Three people were rescued from a car in North Yorkshire.
The Met Office said some areas would see temperatures as low as 5C (23F).
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