Broken blades and burned-out nacelles that housed generators atop wind turbine towers that posed a threat to public safety at a wind farm in Oklahoma’s panhandle are gone.
So are buried cables that connected damaged towers to infrastructure that at one time took power generated by the turbines onto the region’s transmission grid.
The extensive damage was first reported on by The Oklahoman in June, after regulators issued an order to the owners of the wind farm to submit plans for fixing the problems.
“I am not someone whose nerves get on edge very easily, but I didn’t want either myself or my people close to it,” Brandy Wreath told members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission in June.
Wreath is the director of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Public Utility Division, and had visited the site himself.
“What I saw gave me fear,” Wreath told commissioners. “I left with many more concerns and questions than I had arrived with.”
Now, while some minor, weather-dependent seeding needed on some involved land remains to be done, regulators told commissioners on Jan. 11 that wind farm owner Olympia Renewables had accomplished what was needed to address safety threats the damaged equipment posed.
“They did great. Once the ball got rolling, they got everything done,” Wreath said. “It was a really thorough project. We even watched at one point as they used a big electro-magnetic truck to pull embedded pieces of metal out of the earth.
“They also have obtained landowners’ agreements that statutorily required work to put the land back to as close as possible to before the farm was there has been done,” Wreath said. “The fact that the landowners are happy really made us happy.”
Regulators alerted to years-long decline
Inspectors at the commission’s Public Utility Division first learned about troubles with Olympia Renewables’ KODE Novus I and II wind facility nearly a year ago and took action under agency rules that govern decommissioning of wind farms.
The 120-megawatt capacity project – located along the Oklahoma-Texas state line between Guymon and Hardesty – went operational in 2012 and contained 60 towers within Oklahoma.
What inspectors found when they visited the site were nine towers that had catastrophically failed, where portions or entire blades were missing or nacelles at tower tops had burned.
They also saw that dozens of other towers were locked down, either because of internal damage that couldn’t be observed without detailed inspections or because of other problems that were impacting their operations.
Wreath convinced commissioners to approve an emergency order giving the owner a month to develop a plan to address observed problems.
On Tuesday, elected commissioners praised the division’s staff for resolving safety issues with the site.
Commission Chairman Dana Murphy, however, asked whether the agency should re-evaluate surety requirements for wind farm operators that could come into play if another project were to decline without owners willing to address potential problems.
Wreath said his staff is considering the issue.
“It is not so good to have had this experience, but now our staff has and it is something that could be used if we ran into the same type of thing again,” Murphy said.
Weather dictated response
Plans submitted by Olympia in July informed regulators it would remove broken blades from seven towers and completely remove two others that were topped with burnt-out nacelles that used to house generators.
It also took actions to secure the site, but warned regulators the work would take time because its contractor was already engaged on another job and because relatively calm conditions would be needed to safely remove the damaged blades.
Once damaged pieces and the two towers slated for removal were on the ground, the company removed debris from the felled towers’ sites, as well as associated buildings, electrical cables/components and foundations to a depth of 48 inches below grade.
Finally, it backfilled the soil to restore it to grade and is working on reseeding disturbed areas to return them to their pre-construction condition.
Previously, the contractor had estimated it would cost Olympia $348,750 to do the work, but Wreath said Tuesday he hadn’t been informed what the final expense would be.
Future remains unclear
Rumors have circulated that another wind operator was looking at acquiring Olympia’s land leases, but regulators said this week they no nothing of how those talks may have evolved.
Still, if those leases were to change hands, it is likely the new operator would replace all remaining towers and at least some of the gathering lines, converters and substations used to get power from those turbines onto the regional grid.
KODE Novus I and II was developed and owned originally by DeWind (a subsidiary of South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering), a California-based company that later fell into bankruptcy and closed.
Because DeWind built the blades and generators used in the project itself, any critical needed replacement parts that couldn’t be salvaged would have to be manufactured from scratch.
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