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Tioga turbine damage under investigation

The safety and durability of wind turbines in North Dakota are being questioned following an incident late last month in Williams County.

It doesn’t take an expert to realize North Dakota is a windy state.

At times, the winds can be extreme, and in a state that is one of the leaders in wind energy, how safe are those towering turbines?

Late last month, a viewer sent us a video of a turbine apparently damaged by strong winds on Oct. 30, northwest of Tioga.

The turbine is part of the Aurora Windfarm being built by Enel Green Power in Williams County.

KX News reached out Enel for details on what happened and got a statement saying:

“Enel Green Power and our contractors have taken immediate action to investigate an incident that occurred Friday, October 30, involving a wind turbine blade at the Aurora wind project construction site in Williams County, North Dakota. There were no injuries as a result of the incident. Wind turbines are designed to withstand extremely high wind gusts, and while we are still investigating the root cause of the incident, our preliminary indications are that wind speeds were not the instigating factor. Our first concern, as always, is ensuring the safety of our workers, contractors and the surrounding communities, and given the ongoing nature of the investigation, we ask that the community avoid the area of the incident. Construction work in other areas of the project is proceeding safely while recovery efforts are underway.”

But information obtained by KX News describes several errors believed to be made by the contractor while building the turbine that allowed it to spin out of control, resulting in the damage.

That has caused concern about the durability of turbines in high winds. We spoke with the American Wind Energy Association about the fail-safes of turbines.

“Wind turbines can undergo or do undergo controlled shutdowns when wind speeds roughly go above 55 mph. In other cases, the blades will feather or turn into the wind to reduce their surface area, and in some instances, although not as often, blades can lockdown to avoid severe gusts,” said Michelle Mihelic, with the American Wind Energy Association.

North Dakota has over 1,500 turbines, and the Aurora Windfarm is being built in an area that averages a wind speed of 20 miles per hour at 80 meters above ground. That’s about 260 feet up.

All wind farms are overseen by the North Dakota Public Service Commission. One of those commissioners is Julie Fedorchak, who tells KX News the incident raises a few red flags about worker safety.

“The crane operators have to be really highly skilled all of the people on the construction site need to know the protocols and the safety mechanisms that exist in these turbines to safely construct them, attach to the blades and make them operational,” said Fedorchak.

She adds it’s important to note that this turbine was not yet operational and no one was injured. Work at the site has slowed as the investigation is continuing and new parts are being ordered.

A full report on the accident is expected soon. No word yet on any penalties or fines for the contractor or Enel Green Power.

Commissioner Fedorchak adds in her eight years on the PSC, she’s never heard of anything catastrophic happening with a turbine, such as a blade flying off while in operation.