By Ted Sickinger | The Oregonian/OregonLive | Aug. 27, 2022 | www.oregonlive.com
Accident and safety data is hard to come by for the wind industry.
There is no national database of incidents. Owners don’t publicize them. Vendors are reluctant to discuss it. And reporting rules vary by state, or even by county.
As a result, it’s impossible to quantify how often blade failures occur, though news reports have identified them in virtually all states with sizable wind fleets.
DNV Energy, a Norway-based industry consulting group, said in a statement that blade throws such as what happened at Portland General Electric’s Biglow Canyon are rare, and can be prevented by prudent manufacturing and construction practices, and through regular maintenance.
With 350,000 wind turbines installed worldwide, it says it is not aware of any injuries to the general public from a wind turbine tower collapse or blade debris.
The U.S. Department of Energy, meanwhile, said blade throws are “virtually non-existent” on modern turbines due to better engineering and the use of sensors. “Although this type of failure was a concern in the early years of the wind industry, modern wind turbines are reliable, safe, state-of-the-art power plants with hundreds of thousands of hours of operating experience,” the agency said on its website.
The Oregonian/OregonLive contacted a dozen states with the largest wind fleets in the country, finding hodgepodge record-keeping of safety incidents.
Half required some level of accident reporting. Iowa if it results in a fatality. New Mexico if there are fires. And Minnesota, North Dakota and New Mexico for extraordinary events – fires, tower collapse, thrown blades, injuries – though those states don’t collect such reports in a single database, but in compliance reports filed by individual companies that aren’t easily searchable.
Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council requires wind farm operators to prevent structural failures of the tower or blades that could endanger public safety. Operators are also required to report incidents that potentially affect public health and safety within 72 hours.
But those rules only apply to 13 of the largest wind facilities that are permitted by the state, not those that fall below a lower energy-production threshold and are permitted by counties.
Counties don’t uniformly require similar reporting, if at all, so there’s no record of equipment failures or safety incidents at smaller wind farms, which account for half of the 2,300 turbines spread across a swath of northeast and eastern Oregon.
While the Department of Energy maintains records of reported public safety and other incidents at the wind farms it regulates, it’s not comprehensive. The agency provided a spreadsheet it compiled to The Oregonian/OregonLive that listed 41 reported incidents dating back to 2011.
Biglow Canyon in Sherman County is the only wind farm regulated by the state that has reported a full blade separation during that time frame. But the list included other related incidents, including two blades damaged by lightning in 2020 at the Montague Wind farm in Gilliam County; turbine fires at Shepherd’s Flat, which is in Gilliam and Morrow counties, and at Leaning Juniper IIA in Gilliam County; as well as a slew of transformer failures – most of them at Biglow Canyon.
The list doesn’t include two blade failures in 2008 and 2009 at the Stateline wind farm that are referenced in older compliance reports submitted to the state. Nor does it include the most serious incident, a 2007 turbine collapse at the Klondike III wind farm that killed one worker and injured another.
That doesn’t mean that the project’s owner, Avangrid, didn’t report the deadly incident – and in fact it was well publicized, and the manufacturer of the machine was fined by workplace safety regulators.
But the Department of Energy “did not find a record,” of that incident in its files, said Jennifer Kalez, a spokesperson. “The Oregon Department of Energy’s compliance program is simply more robust now than it used to be.”
Sarah Esterson, senior policy advisor in the siting division, said the state has added compliance staff and worked with an outside consultant to develop more rigorous public safety reporting requirements in recent years. That came in response to the increasing number and larger physical size of the facilities under its jurisdiction, as well as public concerns over their impacts, she said.
The siting permit for the Golden Hills wind farm in Sherman County, which became operational this year, for example, includes far more prescriptive reporting conditions for its operator. It requires Avangrid to maintain detailed inspection records for each turbine, identify deficiencies in equipment and provide a summary report each year that identifies structural issues and incidents.
Similar reporting requirements are likely to apply to all new wind farms and those repowering their turbines moving forward, Esterson said.
The Department wants to ensure “that the conditions are written in a way that we get the information we need to closely evaluate whether the wind turbines are operating safely,” she said.
Those new conditions cannot be legally retroactively applied to older wind farms, however, or to those outside state jurisdiction, said Todd Cornett, assistant director of the Department of Energy’s siting division. And that leaves the agency reliant on self reporting of potential safety hazards by those operators or members or the public.
“The only realistic way we can evaluate those is if it gets reported to us,” he said.
URL to article: https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2022/09/01/why-accident-safety-data-is-hard-to-come-by-for-wind-industry/