SIGEL TOWNSHIP – DTE Energy has no idea why a portion of a wind turbine blade broke off early Monday morning during a low-wind period at one of the utility’s sites in the Thumb Wind Park.
“This matter certainly is under investigation,” said Scott L. Simons, DTE Energy spokesman.
Simons said the utility received an alarm at 1 a.m., and later found that one of the blades at the Sigel site appeared to be damaged. Part of a blade had fallen and was on the ground.
“And so right now, we’re on scene along with GE (General Electric) investigating the matter and trying to determine (what went wrong),” he said.
He acknowledged that there appeared to be normal wind conditions at the time of the break, but noted that “it’s a little premature to rule out anything at this point.”
He noted there wasn’t anything at the scene to indicate a bird or anything else flew into the blade, and when asked whether foul play was possible, Simons said, “It’s too early to speculate on any case at this point.”
Wind turbine blade failures of this magnitude do occur, but they are very rare, Simons said.
The Thumb Wind Park is DTE’s first commercial scale wind development, and the utility has never had a blade malfunction like the one that occurred Monday morning. Simons said part of DTE’s investigation will include researching the cause of other turbine breaks at other parks.
Other parks that have had blade breaks include two in East Central Illinois that each had a blade break in the last year. Both turbines were manufactured by GE.
The Paxton Record, of Paxton, Ill., reported last week that Lindsay Theile, a spokeswoman with GE’s Renewable Energy business, stated an “isolated manufacturing issue” caused the turbine blades to break. The first break occurred in June, and the second was in November.
Theile told the Paxton Record that GE has “addressed the manufacturing issue to prevent this from happening in the future.”
Theile told the Tribune she can’t really say what happened to the blade because it’s still being investigated. But, she added, “we believe it to be an isolated incident.”
Simons said safety is DTE’s No. 1 priority, and it will be thorough in its investigation. He said there is no timeline as to when the investigation will be completed.
Jeff Smith, Huron County Planning and Zoning director, said per Huron County’s ordinance, DTE will have to fix the turbine or remove it from that location. That’s because the ordinance requires that projects be in operation or maintained, or else turbines have to be decommissioned.
In this instance, Smith said, DTE is working on figuring out a solution to the problem. He assumed that with the construction activity of the Echo Wind Farm, that DTE will work on fixing the broken blade as soon as possible.
The broken blade is on a turbine on Parisville Road near Learman Road in Sigel Township. There are 40 turbines in that township, which is one of the three locations in DTE’s Thumb Wind Park. Other locations for the 69-turbine park are in Minden and McKinley townships.
The Thumb Wind Park was officially dedicated last October.
This year, DTE is scheduled to construct its Echo Wind Farm in the Elkton area. DTE has chosen GE to also supply turbines for that project. Simons said GE has a good record when it comes to turbine manufacturing.
“They were the firm that won out over others that bid for the contract (with DTE),” he said.
Article updated at 6:15 p.m. Monday, March 11.
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