That wind turbine spinning 80 metres above farm fields and the combine digesting grain on the ground at harvest time have something in common. They can both catch fire and spark ground fires that devour crops. But they may also be protected from catching and spreading fire by built-in fire suppression systems.
Scott Starr, director of global marketing at Firetrace International, said his company’s systems are used in wind turbine enclosures, on buses and on farm equipment. Speaking from Firetrace headquarters in Arizona, Starr said fires like the one that devoured a large wind turbine north of Goderich last week, get reported because they’re visible. Many more go unnoticed except by the industry and insurers.
“The number of fires,” he said, “is really underreported. Obviously, these fires are in remote locations and not all fires escape the nacelle (housing).”
Because of the increasing cost and size of wind turbines, Starr said companies are opting for systems that automatically suppress fires, especially in enclosed panels, before they can spread to the rest of the enclosure. The systems employ various strategies but basically emit gas in the case of electrical panels or powder in the case of engine enclosures like the ones in combines. Such events cause the equipment to shut down and the damage does not spread.
Wind turbine fire causes, Starr said, are many. They include lightening but most turbines have lightening mitigation features.
“It’s not like they’re burning every day,” Starr said, adding, “they are a mechanical environment and you can experience failures from time to time.”
The cause of the fire that destroyed a wind turbine north of Goderich last week is still being investigated but a spokesperson for the turbine company said local fire fighters responded appropriately and according to plan.
Dan Hayden, site operations manager for turbine owner Capital Power, says Goderich volunteer firefighters managed ground containment, the only possible course since the 80-metre tower is out of reach of their equipment.
Goderich fire chief Steve Gardiner agrees that the response was ground containment and that it went according to plan. He said if there had been a crop on the field or if the fire had spread, the department would have circled and contained it.
Hayden also put turbines and combines in the same sentence. He said turbine fires aren’t unlike combine fires and the fire chief agreed. They’re both large pieces of equipment with the potential to catch fire and spread fires in farm fields.
Gardiner said there are protocols established with the department that cover fires and other events associated with the turbines. For example, he said, in the case of a maintenance worker suffering a heart attack, recovery from the tower is the responsibility of the company – not firefighters.
If there is crop or any other ground damage, covering the costs of the damage is also the responsibility of the company. Capital’s consultation manager Lori Wilson said they take responsibility “for any damages caused by our operations.”
Hayden, who works with Kingsbridge I wind farmland owners, said they take responsibility for farmland seriously.
“Sometimes you read that wind turbine companies aren’t familiar with agriculture,” he said. “I was born and raised in this neighborhood and we treat farmland around the wind turbines just like our own.”
While Wilson and Hayden declined to name the owner of the farmland where the turbine fire took place, Wilson did say it is located on Golf Course Road north of Goderich.
Hayden said the cleanup at the site continues but he also said the debris field is quite limited.
“The turbine instantly shut down upon failure,” Hayden said, adding that the blades did not continue to spin and push debris out from the fire. Debris, he said, spread about 200 metres downwind from the fire. While he said they would likely replace the turbine, the exact outcome is not yet determined.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding