Blade falls off wind turbine in Gloucester
Credit: By Ethan Forman, Staff Writer | Gloucester Daily Times | www.gloucestertimes.com ~~
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A spokesperson for Applied Materials on Dory Road said it is investigating what caused a 160-foot blade to fall off the wind turbine in the Blackburn Industrial Park sometime overnight Saturday to Sunday morning.
The city announced Sunday evening Great Republic Drive had reopened to traffic that afternoon after the company assured it was safe to do so.
No one was reported injured and the cause of the blade’s failure remains unknown.
There was “no structural damage aside from the damage sustained in the turbine failure itself,” the city said. Photos of the scene show what appears to be the blade snapped in two, crumpling fencing with some equipment strewn about.
The Gloucester Fire Department responded at 7 a.m. Sunday after it was discovered that one of the three blades on the 492-foot wind turbine had fallen off.
Mayor Greg Verga said he was alerted by Fire Chief Eric Smith at about 6:30 a.m. after the chief was made aware what had happened.
“I appreciate the work our fire and police personnel did as well as the quick action of Applied Materials and the excellent communications we had throughout the morning and early afternoon to get a handle on the situation,” Verga said.
“Overnight a blade detached from the wind turbine located on the Applied Materials site,” said the company, which acquired Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates site in 2011. “The onboard controls immediately responded and placed the turbine in a safe mode. There were no injuries and little damage on the ground. The remaining components of the turbine, including the tower and remaining blades, are intact and secure, and will undergo a complete inspection by the turbine maintenance vendor.”
The spokesperson said a “root-cause analysis is underway and will take some time to complete.”
When asked when the blade fell from the turbine, he said, “overnight to early morning, exact time is not yet determined.”
“The plant was running in normal operations at the time,” the spokesperson said. “Evacuation was deemed not necessary by the onsite emergency response team, no employees were in danger. The turbine system operated as it was designed if/when a system failure occurs.”
The spokesperson said a third-party vendor for wind turbine maintenance determined “it was in a safe state with no danger to employees.”
Normal plant operations are scheduled to resume Monday.
The city said Sunday evening Applied Materials reported that it “appears from preliminary inspections that built-in safety mechanisms caused the turbine to shut down when an issue was detected, and that the safety mechanisms functioned as designed to stop the turbine. Applied Materials reported the remaining blades of the turbine have been locked into place, and that the blades are under far less stress than they are when they are operational.”
As a precaution, the Fire Department setup an approximately 450-foot collapse zone around the turbine and closed a portion of Great Republic Drive in the industrial park for a time.
On Sunday afternoon, Applied Materials, which owns and operates the turbine, informed the city that the cause of the failure remains unknown, but that multiple inspections of the turbine tower and remaining two blades identified no imminent structural concerns.
“Once the company provided written notification that the area could safely be reopened, Great Republic Drive was reopened to traffic. An exclusion zone remains in place around the tower, but the entirety of the exclusion zone is on Applied Materials property,” the city said.
Beach Road resident Peter Lovasco said via Twitter he “heard the super loud scariest noise” at 1:05 a.m. Sunday morning. He called it “a once in a lifetime sound.”
“Sounded like building after building collapsing on top of each other.” He called the sound “surreal.”
Lavasco, a weatherman who tweets as @NEMASSWeatherAlerts, said between the hours of 9 and 10:30 p.m. Sunday, he heard what sounded like loud thunder. He wondered if those sounds could have been related to what happened. “There was nothing on radar at the time of those loud booms.”
The city said it has a power purchase agreement with a separate, private company that operates two other wind turbines in the industrial park, and it works closely with the owners of those turbines to ensure inspections and maintenance are conducted regularly.
Also on scene was Baldwin Crane, the Wilmington-based company that handled the offloading of the turbine’s parts from barges, their transportation to the Applied Materials/Varian site, and the construction of the turbine in 2012.
The turbine at the campus was built at a cost of about $8 million, and went online in December 2012, the first of three installed at Blackburn Industrial Park, and also the tallest – 492 feet when measured from its base to the top of a fully outstretched blade – in the Northeast at the time. The other two turbines in the industrial park are operated by the city of Gloucester and its partners, and have been spinning since 2013.
Applied Materials removed the blades from the turbine to make repairs before reattaching them at the end of 2018. At the time, the company said the turbine had saved it up to $1 million in annual energy costs since being installed, and was producing about 30% of the electricity for the company’s Gloucester campus while while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 34%.
The city’s turbines also have been subject to a series of maintenance and repair projects, shut down to fix hydraulic leaks, and a blown circuit board. The city reeled in $203,474.99 in credits and revenues from the two turbines in fiscal 2018.
Gloucester Times Editor Andrea Holbrook contributed to this report.
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