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Orangeville not alone in wind turbine failure

The November blade failure at the Orangeville Wind Farm may not be an isolated incident, as other wind farms across the country have had similar troubles.

In addition to Orangeville, wind farms in Illinois and Michigan have also experienced failures, involving 1.6-100 megawatt turbines manufactured by General Electric (GE).

The first blade failure occurred in June 2012 at the Settlers Trail Wind Farm near Sheldon, Illinois, operated by E.On Climate & Renewables out of Chicago. That incident was followed by another break in November 2012, at the California Ridge Wind Farm in Eastern Central Illinois.

Of the most recent breaks, the first occurred on Nov. 7 at the Echo Wind Park in Michigan. Echo is owned by Detroit-based DTE Energy, which experienced a previous break at its Thumb Wind Park in March. Thumb is also located in Michigan. Echo Wind Park was still under construction at the time of the break, but Thumb Wind Park was already operating.

California Ridge experienced another failure earlier this year on Nov. 20, three days after the break at Orangeville. Both Orangeville and California Ridge are owned by Invenergy.

Each blade failure involved a similar instance wherein the blades broke off and fell to the ground near the base of the turbines.

Each wind farm ceased operations and shut down following the failures. Investigations were also launched by E.On Climate and Renewables, DTE and Invenergy on their respective wind farm with GE.

GE and Invenergy’s investigation involved not only the individual blade that failed, but all other blades at the wind farm as well.

At the Dec. 12 Orangeville town board meeting, Invenergy Eastern Regional Operations Manager Chris Meehan said Invenergy had launched an investigation into the failure, and that pieces of the broken blade had been sent to a lab for analysis. Invenergy was also reviewing all production records of each blade in an effort to find the cause of the failure, Meehan said.

Four days after the board meeting, Invenergy also released a statement explaining that an investigation into the failure had been launched, and that the rest of the blades in Orangeville had been launched.

“The process is ongoing, as GE personnel makes its way through the Orangeville fleet, turbine by turbine,” the statement read.

GE also released a statement Dec. 16 blaming the root cause of the blade failure on a spar cap manufacturing anomaly. The spar cap is part of the wind turbine blade.

“GE has identified a discrete set of blades that could have been subject to this anomaly and we are working with potentially affected customers to help ensure the reliability of our turbines and their safe operation,” the statement read.

GE did not specify whether those customers included other wind farms such as California Ridge, Thumb or Echo.

GE also wrote that a small percentage of potentially affected blades reviewed had been impacted and unaffected blades are safe for operation.

During the Orangeville Town Board meeting, Meehan said 112 blades from Orangeville have been cleared , and 21 turbines have had all three of their blades cleared. However, Meehan did not say whether the clearing had anything to do with their spar caps.

In order to prevent future failures, GE wrote that it has taken measures, including resourcing GE inspectors who are performing additional quality reviews and data verification. GE also wrote that there will be oversight from GE Engineering.

Also at the Dec. 12 board meeting, Orangeville resident Kathy Jensen asked Meehan if the California Ridge and Orangeville Wind Farm failures were related.

Meehan said Invenergy did not know the root cause of the California Ridge failure, but GE was confident they were not from the same failure mechanism.