“Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile,” by Ralph Nader, criticized car manufacturers for their reluctance to spend money on improving safety. It was a pioneering work that prompted the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, seat-belt laws and a number of other road-safety initiatives.
As wind energy continues its Wild West approach with impunity in these United States of America, the affected pine for a pioneer to set the safety standards for the safe siting of industrial wind turbines (IWTs).
In the meanwhile, it is sobering to glance at the short, five-page summary of accidents, fatalities, effects upon human health, blade failures, fires, structural failures, ice throws and environmental damage caused by IWTs at http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/accidents.pdf.
It appears the wind industry cares about their image more than the safety of the people living around their IWTs when E.ON spokesperson Elon Hasson states “such failures are rare” after the first blade failure in the Wildcat Wind Farm in February of this year. GE, another wind industry giant, followed suit by issuing a statement that included, “Blade breaks in wind turbines are rare.”
It is odd that what E.ON and GE representatives continue to call “rare” seems to happen with awful regularity. According to the above cited Caithness Wind Farm Report, approximately 30 blade failures occurred last year and on average in the past 11 years, 20 blades fail per year. One should keep in mind that this report is not “completely comprehensive” and states that this data represents the “tip of the iceberg.”
Every industry has issues and the Tipton County Citizens for Responsible Development members are well aware of it. In fact, due to this awareness, CRD members have been a proponent of developing wind ordinances while keeping these types of failures in mind.
According to the Caithness WF Report, “Pieces of blade are documented as travelling up to one mile. In Germany, blade pieces have gone through the roofs and walls of nearby buildings. This is why CWIF believe there should be a minimum distance of at least 2 km between turbines and occupied housing in order to adequately address public safety and other issues including noise and shadow flicker.”
Even though CRD members were able to push for many improvements in the new Tipton County Wind Ordinance, glaring omissions exist. The ordinance still allows a setback waiver, essentially doing away with the public safety achieved by the 2,640-foot setback. It still lacks safety enforcements like one is needed right now. Wildcat Wind Farm should be shut down until the nature of blade failures is completely understood.
I find Tipton County Commissioner Phil Heron’s comment at the commissioners meeting, “If someone can show me that there’s imminent danger, that somebody’s life was in serious danger, then we would shut it down,” very puzzling. If blades have some type of defect, then we are merely relying on fate to ensure public safety. As an engineer who designs safety critical products, this makes for poor and unsafe public policy and shows a clear lack of judgment demanded by the office of commissioner.
Tipton County residents have a choice coming up on May 6, and I hope they are paying attention. I know who I will be voting for as our new commissioner: Gerald Shuck.