When something happens that might tarnish the image of a large organization, its leadership usually acts immediately to control information and to protect its image. The news media has the responsibility to investigate and present an accurate picture to the public. Recent articles about UD’s wind turbine outage omit important essential facts and implications related to credibility, public safety, and liability.
The Cape Gazette (CG) 7-27-12 article, “UD wind turbine gets new generator… .,” was positive spin about the outage: Anyone reading it would conclude the turbine outage was due to new equipment installation. This reason was bogus, however, and the true reason might have caused public concern.
Right after the article appeared, I ran into the Cape Gazette publisher. We talked, and I told him the article was a misleading UD spin and the real reason for the outage was a late June lightning strike. He was very skeptical, but agreed to question UD about it.
Next week’s story, “UD wind turbine struck by lightning,” divulged for the first time publicly the reason for the long outage. Mr. Ohrel, the director of the Marine Public Education Office at UD’s Lewes Campus, was the source for this article, according to the newspaper. No reason was given for the long delay in making the lightning strike public.
Ohrel was UD’s spokesperson quoted in the CG June 2011 article, “Lewes boat ramp connector road stalls,” as denying UD was involved in connector road discussions. The article, however, never listed the documentary evidence which I gave the Cape Gazette showing Ohrel’s statement was false. Only Mayor Ford’s contrary assertion was quoted. The reader had to decide who was truthful without the benefit of seeing all the evidence.
Either Ohrel was untruthful or was ignorant of the discussions. His position belies the latter. Even if the latter were true, others at UD clearly knew the statement was false. UD issued no correction however. Why? Perhaps UD wanted to deflect any criticism for the delay in building the new connector road to the boat ramp, promised as far back as 2002. After all, it is a hot issue for some Lewes residents.
Finally, in the last week of July, a University representative told a group of state-wide educators at its Lewes Campus the outage was due to installation of a new generator. By then, the lightning strike was common knowledge in UD circles and, as the publisher stated to me later “common knowledge around town.”
Lightning may strike a turbine and cause serious damage, according to professional literature I provided the paper and mentioned in the article. Many questions remain unanswered however. How do we know the internal blade assembly isn’t damaged? Is external visual inspection sufficient to determine the extent of the damage? Were other turbine components damaged? Could lightning cause a turbine fire? Is there a plan to contain it? These are not insignificant issues and involve credibility and public safety which brings us back to the connector road.
DNREC’s August 2009 Regulatory Advisory Service established a minimum setback for the future turbine of about 615 feet from a public road. The last UD connector road realignment, approved by DNREC in April 2009, places the turbine at a point 555 feet from it, according to an engineering plan in UD’s December 2009 turbine building permit application, and less than 600 feet from the existing road. DNREC and UD evidently didn’t take the setback and public safety seriously.
The turbine public road setback is not trivial. Another jurisdiction has a 1,600 feet public road setback from a large turbine. A March 2012 accident with a smaller turbine threw two blades more than 1,000 feet from the turbine. Surrounding open fields precluded any damage to people or private property. The question remains: Is the public road too close to the turbine?
Liability is the last issue. UD created a third-party limited liability company (LLC) that owns the Turbine which is located on state-owned open space and was projected to earn $500,000 per year. Dr. Firestone publicly stated UD’s insurance would cover any accident. Why then create an LLC? To earn money and avoid liability. Despite a request, UD never provided any documents to verify coverage and argued in federal court it is immune from suit since the LLC owns the Turbine. The question remains: Who is liable for an accident?
Let the reader now judge whether UD has been honest with the public and whether the news media has done a credible job?
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