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Controversial wind turbine’s blade crashes to ground

Engineers have been urgently summoned to find out why a small wind turbine at a remote north-west Sutherland village hall dramatically lost one of its two blades on New Year’s Eve.

The mangled remains of the fibreglass blade were found lying some 18m from the 6kw wind turbine sited 90m to the south-east of Rhue Stoer Community Hall, Assynt.

It is thought to have flown off overnight on Hogmanay, leaving the structure in a fragile state with its hub cap hanging down and its tail fin pointing upwards.

As the Northern Times went to press yesterday (Thursday) it was reported that the remaining blade had also fallen to the ground.

The 15m high Eoltec Scirocco turbine, manufactured by French firm Eoltec SAS, was given the go-ahead by planners in November 2010 and erected amid huge controversy some six months ago.

Four members of the Rhue Stoer Community Hall Association are understood to have resigned in a row over the turbine.

And East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor George Farlow, who supported the development, found himself reported to the Public Standards Commissioner for Scotland for allegedly contravening the Councillors’ Code of Conduct by providing planners with inaccurate information and not revealing objections to the turbine that he had received.

The commissioner, in a judgement issued in August this year, exonerated Councillor Farlow from any wrongdoing.

The turbine has since been the subject of a noise complaint which is still under investigation by Highland Council environmental health officials.

Opponents this week said that the latest incident demonstrated that their concerns about the turbine were “fully justified.”

Embarrassed hall managers have now cancelled a planned ceremony tomorrow (Saturday) to mark the erection of the turbine.

Councillor Farlow had been due to unveil a display board in the hall showing the amount of energy generated by the turbine.

But he has now been told that the ceremony will not be taking place, although the community association’s annual New Year Open Afternoon is still expected to go ahead.

Secretary of the Rhue Stoer Community Hall Association, Bob Cook, said he had no idea what had caused the turbine to shed its blade, but vandalism had not been ruled out.

“We don’t know why this blade has come off. It could be a component failure or a failure in the assembly of the turbine or vandalism,” he said.

“We are waiting for engineers to come and lower the turbine and find out exactly what happened and until we get their report, there is no point in speculating.”

However, the high winds which hit the North over the festive period are not thought to have been a factor in the turbine failure.

Mr Cook explained: “We deliberately chose this turbine for its ability to stand up to salt and high winds.

“We did have wind speeds of between 80 and 90mph, but it is built to withstand speeds of up to 140mph so we don’t believe the weather to be a factor.

“A similar turbine is situated near a lighthouse off the coast of Orkney and has been there for well over a year with no problems at all and you cannot get a much rougher location than there.”

Mr Cook said he had been very “taken aback” when he learned about the malfunction.

“It is embarrassing,” he conceded. “And the worst thing about it is that the objectors will be laughing their socks off. I am not worried. Hopefully, it will just be a case of replacing the blades and off it will go again.”

He denied that there had been any risk to passers-by from the flying blade.

“It isn’t next door to a building so the chances of the blade hitting anyone were pretty slim. Maybe if you had been a sheep standing underneath it, then you might have been bonked on the head,” he said.

He added that the turbine, for which the association received a grant aid, had been running smoothly since it was put up.

“It’s been working fantastically well and has generated 10,400 kilowatt hours in the six months that it has been up – that is many thousands of pounds worth in income,” he said.

A local resident, who objected to the turbine and did not want to be named, commented: “We expected this to happen because of the weather here. The village is surrounded by hills so you get a buffeting effect from the wind – it is not the smooth, steady blow a turbine needs to perform well.”

The resident dismissed the suggestion that the turbine could have been vandalised, but said she was not surprised that the suggestion had been made.

She said: “The turbine is the subject of a noise complaint and it has been making some very strange noises lately. The irony is that it was only taken down for servicing on October 18th so it does seems odd that it has suddenly fallen apart.”

Councillor Farlow commented: “This is just one of these things that happens and it can be put right. I have no doubt they will repair it. I also doubt very much that there was any potential for danger.”

He continued: “It was a very controversial planning application and there was a bit of a stushie about the consultation process but it has made folk interested and involved.

“In general terms, there are issues about the neighbourhood planning consultation process but I think that has been sorted out. I have been working with the community council to ensure they are kept as up-to-date as possible about planning applications.”