If a turbine falls in the desert, would anyone hear it? In this case, when environmentalists and the residents of nearby Ocotillo are watching for any little misstep, the answer is yes.
The failure of one of 112 turbines in the Ocotillo Express wind farm was heard loud and clear.
A year ago, at a county Board of Supervisors meeting, Pattern Energy senior developer Glen Hodges defended the safety and quality of equipment made by Siemens Energy, manufacturers of the turbine in Ocotillo that broke apart, sending a 174-foot blade weighing hundreds of pounds to the desert floor.
In all fairness to Pattern and Siemens, no one was hurt. This was an accident. Officials with Pattern and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have also said that preliminary reports indicate no sensitive cultural or archeological materials were harmed.
Still, there is a group of people, most who are the very vocal opponents of Pattern’s project – some Ocotillo residents, environmentalists and Native American tribes – and some who were more quietly on the fence, having a field day Friday.
With Siemens Energy admitting there are problems with this particular model of turbine, it has curtailed its use for the time being. Pattern, for its part, has shut down Ocotillo Express until it is deemed safe.
That is the right thing to do now. Questions need to be answered first, some that were possibly never asked in the first place or never answered. Sadly, hindsight is 20-20, and all the critics can tell you they saw this coming.
We don’t know if that is fair. We have supported this project from the outset, even though we’ve begun to wonder its true efficacy in a landscape where geothermal is so proven and solar less aesthetically and vertically obtrusive.
One concern we have is public access to the areas around which most of these turbines are built. The reality is, the nearest turbine to a home is a half mile’s distance. To throw a blade that far would take incredible speed and momentum. But that’s not the problem.
The public, by foot or off-road vehicle, has access to the area, and potentially could have been in the line of fire of that falling blade Thursday morning.
Pattern is going to build where it is going to build. That is what for-profit companies do. It was the BLM’s responsibility to think this through a bit more.
Pattern is going to reopen. The compelling support for renewable energy, no matter the form, is too strong in this country and county. Let’s hope the right thing is done to make sure this doesn’t happen again, or that someone can’t get hurt, or worse.
There seem to be questions surrounding Siemens’ equipment itself. Will those questions be enough to remove and replace for better, safer pieces? We’ll see.
Harvesting the clean energy of the future can be a dirty business. It’s up to all the responsible parties and the people with power and influence to make certain corrective measures to get Pattern open and operating again are just as forward-thinking.
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