Like a giant plastic straw bent in half, a wind turbine tower buckled over in rural Chatham-Kent, its motor and massive blades lying mangled on the ground.
No one was hurt in the tower collapse overnight Friday, a spokesperson for the energy company that operates the wind farm where the tower stood said by email.
But a spokesperson for a wind energy umbrella group said the failure appears to be only the second of its kind among the more than 6,400 wind turbines installed in Canada.
And the way the tower toppled over is unusual, said an official with a company that provides engineering software for manufacturers, including the wind energy industry, to design products with structural integrity to avoid fatigue failure.
“It looks a major buckling of the tower at the mid-point, which is unlikely to be a fatigue failure,” Jon Oldred, vice president of product management for HBM Prenscia, said from Southfield, Mich.
Reviewing a photograph provided by the Chatham Daily News, Oldred said it appears an “extreme load of some kind” may have caused the incident.
Home to the largest number of wind turbines in Ontario, and the province’s largest wind farms, much of Southwestern Ontario – especially rural Chatham-Kent – is dotted by the giant electricity generators.
The tower is part of TerraForm Power’s Raleigh Wind Power project in South Kent.
“We are currently investigating the cause of the issue,” Chad Reed, the company’s director of investor relations, wrote by email.
“In the meantime, we have secured the immediate area around the turbine and taken the full facility offline as a precaution as we conduct a site inspection.”
Oldred said more common structural failures that occur with turbine towers happen in the gearbox for the blades, or with their shaft or mechanical aspects.
“They break quite regularly, but to have the whole tower fail – that’s more of a civil engineering problem, and I would say pretty unusual,” Oldred said.
Chatham-Kent police Sgt. Paul Pomajba said foul play is not suspected.
He said TerraForm is investigating, and Ontario’s labour and environment ministries were contacted.
“A number of other experts will be attending the scene to determine the cause of what has happened here today,” Pomajba said.
Steve Mead, who lives three concession roads from the toppled turbine, said he’s long had concerns about the towers seeing several internet video of blades that broke off and flew “great distances.
“Now they’re falling apart here,” he added. “How safe are we?”
He said when the plan for erecting wind farms was first proposed, it was touted as safe renewable energy.
“I’m not feeling very safe right now,” Mead said, adding he has a 360-degree view of turbines around his house.
South Kent Coun. Karen Herman went to scene of the collapse and said she was “speechless” at first sight.
“We need to find out what happened,” she said. “I can’t imagine this being a normal occurrence.”
She said she took a picture and shared it with council colleagues and Chatham-Kent civic managers.
“I’m just glad no one’s hurt, I think that’s the important thing here, right now,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Environment Ministry wrote the department is taking the incident seriously.
“Ministry staff are attending the site today to ensure that the company takes the necessary steps to contain and clean up any spilled materials,” the spokesperson said by email.
The ministry said TerraForm is bringing in specialists to assess the failure and arranging to have the damaged turbine removed. It has shut down all 51 wind turbines until the cause of the collapse is known.
Ministry staff weren’t ware of any similar incidents in the area before.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) indicated such failures are rare.
“As far as CanWEA is aware, this is the second time an incident of this kind has occurred in the history of the Canadian fleet of 6,400-plus wind turbines,” Jean-François Nolet wrote by email.
Wind turbines are regularly inspected and maintained to ensure peak performance and safety, he noted.