A Thumb-area wind turbine toppled to the ground early this morning.
At a time when some Thumb residents are voicing concerns about windmill safety and setbacks, the turbine break marks the second in Huron County in less than a week.
Kristen Otterness, a spokeswoman for Exelon, said the wind turbine “came down to the ground” in the company’s Harvest I wind project in Elkton.
“There were no injuries to members of the public or employees,” Otterness said in an email. “The area around the turbine is roped off and has been put in a safe, secure condition. We’re looking into the cause.”
Further information on the break was not immediately available.
Shortly after 3 p.m. Feb. 19, a wind turbine in Sigel Township also malfunctioned.
DTE Energy regional manager Ron Chriss said a blade on the wind turbine bent and wrapped around the head, or nacelle, of the turbine.
“DTE Energy found one piece of blade approximately 12 feet long on the ground about 120 yards away from the base,” Chriss said. “That is well within the zoning setback distances.”
Chriss said DTE crews were on scene within an hour and secured the site. He said they still are investigating what caused the break.
Dale Ricker, of Filion, said he traveled to both breaks to photograph the damage. Ricker said he’s been following some of the local concerns about wind turbine safety.
“If this doesn’t reinforce the need for proper setback for safety, I don’t know what does,” Ricker said.
In an email to the Times Herald last week, Otterness stressed that modern wind turbines are safe and a break in the structures was unlikely.
“They’re designed and engineered so that these types of things don’t happen, and as we said publicly, the likelihood is rare,” Otterness said. “They have safety systems that will automatically shut off the turbine if it’s not operating as designed.”
The break in the Elkton wind turbine comes a day after Bridgehampton Township resident Roger Knight filed a referendum with his township to stop ordinance changes favorable to Exelon.
Exelon has plans to install 68 windmills that each measure about 499 feet in height across three townships: Marion, Bridgehampton, and Custer. According to the company, the project would be able to generate about 150 megawatts of energy – enough to power about 44,000 average homes.
The project has been controversial, as residents allege members of the planning commission and board made ordinance changes favorable to the wind farm while holding leases with Exelon and other wind energy companies.
Some of those ordinance changes adjusted the allowable setbacks around a windmill – permitting a windmill to be located within 550 feet of the property line of a non-participating parcel and within 1,320 feet of an inhabited structure.
Knight will begin to collect signatures to put another ordinance change to a vote in August. The ordinance change would make amendments to the distribution of notice for public hearings on special land use permits.
“All we need is 32 signatures,” Knight said. “I counted those before I had my first cup of coffee this morning.”
Knight said the referendum is necessary to stop proceedings without taking the issue to court.
“We’re doing what we can to protect ourselves because our board won’t do it,” Knight said.
“We’re not asking for the moon. All we’re asking for is to hold this thing back. Let’s look at the setbacks; let’s look at the safety issues.”
In Marion Township, Steve Thompson submitted about 140 signatures Tuesday for a referendum on zoning ordinance changes.
In Marion Township, two of five board of trustee members hold contracts with Exelon, and three of five planning commission members hold contracts with the wind company.
Despite that, the planning commission voted on an ordinance change to the overlay district Jan. 7, which was approved by the board Jan. 20.
That same day, immediately following the board meeting, the planning commission met and approved Exelon’s special land use permit.
“We were attempting to bring it to a vote to see whether this windmill district will be expanded or not,” Thompson said, of the referendum.
“I did what I could do. I’m just going to have to sit back and watch what happens now.”
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