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Wind turbines and their fight against severe storms

LUBBOCK, Texas– As two tornadoes touched down in Lynn County in early May, wind turbines were in their path. This left many people wondering, how strong of storms can wind turbines manage?

Most wind turbines are built based off of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards, or an international blueprint for wind turbines. This would ensure their infrastructure is stable enough to endure diverse weather conditions.

Mark Harrall, with Group Nire Renewable Energy, said typically the wind turbines operate in normal to moderate wind conditions. However, when winds reach strengths starting at approximately 45 mph, the turbine’s sensors recognize the speed and shut down.

“If the turbines don’t shut offline, you have what is called overspeed. The turbine turns faster than what they are designed to handle and don’t shut off. The turbine comes to pieces,” Harrall said.

Turbine designs are not built to withstand tornado strength winds, and could sustain damage, according to Harrall.

“It can be very expensive to repair wind farms once they are damaged,” Harrall said.

Turbine companies recognize wind turbine damage based on how functionally they operate a few months after a severe weather incident, if a whole turbine farm fails to operate, or if there are cracks in the infrastructure of the turbine itself, said Harrall.

Wes Reeves, a representative with Xcel Energy said, for many reasons, they have to monitor these severe weather conditions closely. They have meteorologists on site to predict where the wind will blow day-to-day.

“Weather affects us in so many ways, not just wind and wind turbines, but just through our basic infrastructure,” he said.

When winds become to strong, they prepare their natural gas units to compensate for the energy loss.

However, despite having to shut down wind turbine systems during sever weather, Reeves said Spring and Fall are still the most productive energy producing seasons.

“That’s when you see the strongest winds, most sustained winds. You get to the dead of summer often time we see less wind,” he said.