So how do you put out a fire atop a wind turbine tower as tall as a 20-storey building and in the middle of a field?
The short answer is: you don’t.
That’s why an early morning blaze that extensively damaged a turbine north of Goderich was allowed to burn itself out.
The fire has fueled the fierce debate between those who add fire hazard to their list of reasons to hate wind turbines and those who say an isolated incident doesn’t detract from wind energy’s exceptional safety record.
The turbine caught fire, for reasons still under investigation, about 1 a.m. Tuesday.
Goderich volunteer firefighters were called to the scene and, in turn, called Capital Power which owns and operates the Kingsbridge I wind farm.
Fire Chief Steve Gardiner said the turbine owner is responsible to respond according to its emergency plans.
If a turbine fire ignites materials on the ground, firefighters would take a more active role but that wasn’t needed.
Even so, there’s no water source on site and the tallest ladder the department has stretches only 22 metres.
The turbine tower is 80 metres high and each of the three blades is 40 metres long.
Dave Griffiths, head of Bluewater Against Turbines, said chemicals from burning blades would be toxic.
“If that thing is spinning when it’s on fire, it can throw material a long way,” he said Tuesday morning. “The toxic fumes coming off these things is unbelievable.”
None of that took place, said Dan Hayden, operations manager for Capital Power. The fire was brief and the blades stopped spinning almost immediately.
Some debris landed near the base of the tower and the farthest reach of the debris was “300 metres, tops. . . . It really is contained,” he said.
The nacelle – which houses the generator and gear box where the three blades meet at the top of the turbine tower – is a blackened metal skeleton. All three blades are intact but two have extensive damage.
Hayden said the company and Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas will jointly investigate.
Spokesperson Lori Wilson said the company won’t speculate on whether the turbine can be repaired. She wasn’t able to put a value of the structure which became operational in 2006, when costs were about $2 million a turbine.
For wind energy opponents, this is more ammunition. “It’s perfect timing for us,” Griffiths said.
In 2011, a 2MW V80 caught fire in high winds at the Ardrossan wind farm in Ayrshire, Scotland. The incident occurred as the northern half of the UK faced winds of up to 165 miles per hour.
Last year Vestas was hit by a number of fires in its turbines. In April, the nacelle of a V112 3MW turbine caught fire in Germany, while in June a V90 in Spain suffered a similar fate.
The Spanish fire was caused by an arc flash during servicing, while the German incident was the result of a loose connection in the electrical system.
Last week a Vestas V52 collapsed in high winds at a project in Donegal, Ireland.
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