May 15, 2020

Faulty blades hamper wind farm production (Part 2)

By Lauren G. Flaugh | Chronicle Times | Friday, May 15, 2020 |

“All 82 turbines will be commissioned by 12/31/2019, there is no material work planned for 2020,” EDF Community Relations coordinator Jinnie Hall asserted for a Cherokee County Glaciers Edge Wind Project wrap-up story that was published in the CT on Jan 6, 2020.

However, the unexpected sight of a broken turbine blade at a site in Marcus Township before the New Year clearly put the kibosh on Hall’s assertion. A three-day period of ice, sleet and high winds enveloped NW Iowa from 12/27 to 12/29, that possibly could have contributed to the blade’s failure.

A Barnhart Renewables crane crew moved onto this site to remove the mangled blades, without lowering the 165,000 pound hub and blade assembly. By rotating the failed blade to a horizontal level and locking the hub to prevent it from turning, the tow cranes were able to latch on to the blade.

A crew inside the hub unbolted the blade so the two hydraulic cranes could swing the blade away from the hub and slowly lower it to the ground. Both cranes then raised a new 180-foot long blade 260 feet up so it could be bolted securely to the hub.

Giant cranes work in tandem to remove and replace damaged blades at Glaciers Edge wind farm in western Cherokee County. Photo by Loren G. Flaugh

This exacting procedure is one that will be viewed frequently in the future whenever wind turbines maintenance specialists replace a damaged blade. The two crane operators must work in total unison when easing the blade away and getting it to the ground.

I Emailed EDF’s Community Relations Coordinators, Jinnie Hall, a list of 19 detailed questions in late March regarding the blade issues.

Hall replied via email on April 14th with another EDF statement: ”The Glaciers Edge Wind Farm completed major construction and became fully operational at the end of 2019. Our service team regularly inspects the turbines for operational and efficiency issues. An inspection crew identified damage to some of the blades which led to an immediate stop of operation and an investigation by the original equipment manufacturer.

“The manufacturer is working with EDFR to further inspect affected blades and replace or repair them as needed. We expect this work to continue for the next couple of months with an estimated crew of about a dozen working throughout the Spring.”

White Construction Company had one of their two cranes at a turbine site near Cleghorn in Liberty Township on April 7th. I recalled taking photos of this site in the summer of 2019 as crews began assembling this site and one further south. These were the wind farm’s first two sites.

I stopped at the site on G Avenue north of Highway 3 where White Construction had their mobile office area and lay down yard for almost a year. I counted 36 blades neatly lined up at this expansion site where blade repair is now in progress. I watched a crew repairing a blade. It appeared their repair work was focussed near the smaller end of the blade perhaps 50 feet back from the blade tip.

Moving west to B-Avenue and Section 29, I talked to Ray Drefke and his son Neal who farm on both sides of the gravel road. I asked them if they had heard what caused the blade in the next section further north to break. They could only speculate that it was perhaps ice or freezing rain that may have let to the blade’s failure in the last days of 2019.

On B-Avenue after crossing C-16, I stopped between two turbine sites on Steven Peters farmland. A White Construction employee operating a piece of machinery was approaching. I asked, “What’s happening to the blades that’s causing them to fail and needing to be repaired?

He reported that seams on the surface were opening up. “The blades are being fixed at a site on G-Avenue south of 480th Street. Blade specialists on the ground are using binoculars to examine the end of the blades.”

I asked Steve Peters if he knew exactly when the blades in the next section south broke. Peters recalled that , “the blade broke during the morning hours of Dec. 30. Nothing looked wrong at that site until before noon. Steve also said he had heard that 32 turbine sites (96 blades) had blades that needed to be repaired or replaced.

While I was parked on the C-16 and B-Avenue, Marcus area landowner John Sand stopped and talked to me.

I asked John if he knew the number of turbines sites involved in this unanticipated project. John reported 26 turbine sites. I had now heard three different numbers (26, 30, 32).

Sand also noted, “I hear that the blades came with defects already in them.” Others have stated this same claim, however, this notion still remains unverified.

Sand’s last comment was, “I hear it might cost perhaps $20 million to repair and replace the turbine blades.”

Just the expense of leasing or renting a massive Manitowoc or Liebherr top-off crane can cost upwards of $80,000 to $100,000 per month, plus operator and crew.

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