A wind turbine at the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility burst into flames on January 15th. East County Magazine photographer Jim Pelley, an Ocotillo resident, caught the incident on video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGYvHM5KlJs&feature=youtu.be. The Siemens 2.3-108 turbine was a 2.3 megawatt model with 108 meter blades. The turbine (#113) is located along a mining road.
“There were no injuries,” Jeff Grappone from Siemens told ECM. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire, he stated in an e-mail. The equipment impacted (six circuits) has been de-energized, a safe perimeter established and the tower is being monitored continuously, he indicated.
Grappone added that a circuit of six turbines has been de-energized, however, he adds, “The fire was isolated to a single turbine in this circuit and we have no other concerns about the other five de-energized turbines, which will be returned to service as soon as possible.”
The fire department responded, however the fire “self extinguished” without intervention, according to Grappone. Witnesses in Ocotillo confirmed that no firefighting efforts were observed. Pelley voiced concern that no sirens from emergency vehicles were heard during the incident.
Grappone did not respond to ECM’s inquiry asking whether the turbine contained a fire suppression system in the nacelle.
The turbine that caught fire is not near homes, however others are within 500 feet of houses, raising concerns over the potential for burning debris to threaten residences should any other turbine ignite.
Park Ewing, another Ocotillo resident, voiced concern over whether toxins were released by the blaze.
This is not the first serious incident at the facility, where among other concerns, a multi-ton blade fell off in May 2013, as ECM reported.
The Ocotillo wind project, though it surrounds homes, is located in desert terrain where fire poses less of a hazard than in places with dense brush such as Campo, where a fire at the Kumeyaay Wind Farm in December 2013 sparked a brush fire that burned close to a home, panicking residents before it was extinguished. A prior explosion at that same facility in December 2010 results in replacement of all 25 turbines, which were off-line for months, as ECM reported. The Campo project was developed by Babcock and Brown, predecessor of Pattern Energy, which built Ocotillo.
Asked whether Siemens has had other fire issues at wind projects elsewhere, Grappone replied, “We have a strong fire resistance track record with very few isolated incidents affecting our global fleet of more than 6,800 of this type of turbine in operation.”
Pattern Energy, which developed the Ocotillo wind project, claimed in a community meeting in January 2010 that it had never had a fire with a Siemens 2.3 turbine model: and that turbine fires are extremely rare: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13zWwwSiw5M.
ECM has reported on numerous wind turbine fires in Southern California and around the world. While albeit a small percentage of the total wind turbines in operation, it only takes one to potentially ignite a devastating wildfire in the wrong location.
An ECM reader’s poll back in 2012 found that 51% of readers would support a ban prohibiting industrial-scale wind turbines in wildfire-prone East County, while only 42% would oppose such a ban and 7% were not sure. That was before a spate of wind turbine fires in Southern California drew media attention in our area.
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