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Still no word on what caused turbine blade to break

SIGEL TOWNSHIP – Officials said Friday that there isn’t any new information indicating why a wind turbine blade broke off early Monday morning during a low-wind period at DTE Energy’s Thumb Wind Park.

“Nothing’s been determined yet,” said Scott L. Simons, DTE Energy spokesman. “The investigation continues.”

Simons said earlier this week that 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.

DTE Energy officials and representatives from GE, which is the turbine’s manufacturer, have been on site this week investigating the broken blade. Simons said it’s hard to predict when the investigation will wrap up, as each investigation is different.

“GE will be leading the investigation because it’s their equipment,” Simons said.

Katelyn Buress, a spokeswoman from GE’s Renewable Energy business, said she has no additional information at this time.

“We’re still working on (a) root cause analysis,” she said.

Earlier this week, she told the Tribune that GE believes the broken blade is an isolated incident. But she couldn’t say what happened because it’s still being investigated.

Last year, two GE-manufactured turbines experienced broken blades in East Central Illinois. 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 last 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.”

Both of those broken blades appeared to resemble the one in Sigel Township. However, Buress said it’s unknown whether a manufacturing issue caused the break in Sigel Township.

As for where the turbines in Illinois and Sigel Township were manufactured, that is not public information. Buress explained that GE designs its turbines from top to bottom, but it goes out to different suppliers to manufacture the various turbine components. She said GE does not disclose the name of those suppliers.

Buress said she’s not sure how long the analysis will take, but the cause of the break should be determined before additional wind turbines are erected in the area.

DTE plans to construct 70 GE turbines this year in its new project, Echo Wind Park, in the Elkton area. Simons said that right now, DTE is waiting for the investigation to be completed.

“But any time you have a turbine break, that is a matter of concern,” he said. “First and foremost is the safety of our employees and our customers.”

Jeff Smith, Huron County Building and Zoning director, indicated he has been in contact with DTE officials, GE, and the project’s contractor, Barton Malow. He said project officials intend to fix the turbine. However, a crane is required to do that work.

“They’re keeping my department informed on the status of the study of why it happened, and obviously, they can’t get back in there (to fix the turbine) until the weight restrictions come off,” Smith said, in reference to seasonal weight limits that went into affect last week.

Neal J. Hentschl, Huron County Road Commission secretary-manager, said it’s hard to say when the road restrictions will be lifted.

“They’re put out based on need, and taken off when the frost is gone,” he said. “… An easy estimate is at least a couple weeks. But that’s just a wild guess.”

Hentschl explained the road commission sets weight limits each year to help minimize the impact of heavy trucks on the roads during the spring cycle of freezing and thawing. Once restrictions are imposed, no permits can be issued for vehicles that are in excess of the normal loading maximum because it causes extensive problems to the road. The road commission will lift the restrictions after conducting physical checks that show the ground frost is gone.

The broken blade in Sigel Township 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. Minden and McKinley townships host the other sites in the 69-turbine park, which was officially dedicated last October.