Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Turbine Inferno

Have you seen the photograph on this page showing a wind turbine going up in flames. With the new planning application for more wind turbines by BT as reported in this months newsletter should we be concerned?

According to the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum this is just one of a number of types of accidcents that can occur with wind turbines. This is an extract from a document they have placed on the web:

The accompanying detailed table includes all documented cases of wind turbine related accidents which could be found and confirmed through press reports or official information releases up to 31 March 2011. CWIF believe that this compendium of accident information may be the most comprehensive available anywhere. (Full copy of the report can be seen here)

Data in the detailed table is by no means fully comprehensive – CWIF believe that it may only be the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of numbers of accidents and their frequency. However, the data gives an excellent cross-section of the types of accidents which can and do occur, and their consequences.
With few exceptions, before about 1997 only data on fatal accidents has been found.

The trend is as expected – as more turbines are built, more accidents occur. Numbers of recorded accidents reflect this, with an average of 16 accidents per year from 1995-99 inclusive; 48 accidents per year from 2000-04 inclusive, and 104 accidents per year from 2005-10 inclusive.

This general trend upward in accident numbers is predicted to continue to escalate unless HSE make some significant changes – in particular to protect the public by declaring a minimum safe distance between new turbine developments and occupied housing and buildings (around 2km in Europe), and declaring “no-go” areas to the public, following the 500m exclusion zone around operational turbines imposed in France.

Number of accidents
Total number of accidents: 994

Fatal accidents
Number of fatal accidents: 70

Please note: There are more fatalities than accidents as some accidents have caused multiple fatalities. Of the 78 fatalities:
55 were wind industry and direct support workers (maintenance/engineers, etc), or small turbine owner /operators.

23 were public fatalities, including workers not directly dependent on the wind industry (e.g. transport workers).

Human injury
79 accidents regarding human injury are documented.

66 accidents involved wind industry or construction/maintenance workers, and a further 14 involved members of the public or workers not directly dependent on the wind industry (e.g. fire fighters, transport workers). Five of these injuries to members of the public were in the UK.

Blade failure
By far the biggest number of incidents found was due to blade failure. “Blade failure” can arise from a number of possible sources, and results in either whole blades or pieces of blade being thrown from the turbine. A total of 203 separate incidences were found:

Pieces of blade are documented as travelling up to 1300 meters. In Germany, blade pieces have gone through the roofs and walls of nearby buildings. This is why CWIF believe that there should be a minimum distance of at least 2km between turbines and occupied housing, in order to adequately address public safety and other issues including noise and shadow flicker.

Fire is the second most common accident cause in incidents found. Fire can arise from a number of sources – and some turbine types seem more prone to fire than others. A total of 158 fire incidents were found:

The biggest problem with turbine fires is that, because of the turbine height, the fire brigade can do little but watch it burn itself out. While this may be acceptable in reasonably still conditions, in a storm it means burning debris being scattered over a wide area, with obvious consequences. In dry weather there is obviously a wider-area fire risk, especially for those constructed in or close to forest areas and/or close to housing. Two fire accidents have badly burned wind industry workers.

Structural failure
From the data obtained, this is the third most common accident cause, with 112 instances found. “Structural failure” is assumed to be major component failure under conditions which components should be designed to withstand. This mainly concerns storm damage to turbines and tower collapse. However, poor quality control, lack of maintenance and component failure can also be responsible.

While structural failure is far more damaging (and more expensive) than blade failure, the accident consequences and risks to human health are most likely lower, as risks are confined to within a relatively short distance from the turbine. However, as smaller turbines are now being placed on and around buildings including schools, the accident frequency is expected to rise.

Ice throw
31 incidences of ice throw were found. Some are multiple incidents. These are listed here unless they have caused human injury, in which case they are included under “human injury” above.

Ice throw has been reported to 140m. Some Canadian turbine sites have warning signs posted asking people to stay at least 305m from turbines during icy conditions.
These are indeed only a very small fraction of actual incidences – a report* published in 2003 reported 880 icing events between 1990 and 2003 in Germany alone. 33% of these were in the lowlands and on the coastline.

There have been 70 reported accidents – including a 45m turbine section ramming through a house while being transported, a transporter knocking a utility pole through a restaurant, and a turbine section falling off in a tunnel. Transport fatalities and human injuries are included separately. Most accidents involve turbine sections falling from transporters, though turbine sections have also been
lost at sea, along with a £50M barge.

Environmental damage (including bird deaths)
86 cases of environmental damage have been reported – the majority since 2007. This is perhaps due to a change in legislation or new reporting requirement. All involved damage to the site itself, or reported damage to or death of wildlife. 34 instances reported here include confirmed deaths of protected species of bird. Deaths, however, are known to be far higher. At the Altamont Pass windfarm alone, 2400 protected golden eagles have been killed in 20 years, and about 10,000
protected raptors (Dr Smallwood, 2004). In Germany, 32 protected white tailed eagles were found dead, killed by wind turbines (Brandenburg State records). In Australia, 22 critically endangered Tasmanian eagles were killed by a single windfarm (Woolnorth).

Other (miscellaneous)
185 miscellaneous accidents are also present in the data. Component failure has been reported here if there has been no consequential structural damage. Also included are lack of maintenance, electrical failure (not led to fire or electrocution) and planning “accidents” where towers have been installed closer than permitted to housing, etc. Construction and construction support accidents are also included, also lightning strikes when a strike has not resulted in blade damage or fire. A
separate 1996 report** quotes 393 reports of lightning strikes from 1992 to 1995 in Germany alone, 124 of those direct to the turbine, the rest are to electrical distribution network.

What do you think should we be worried and start a campaign to have this application thrown out, what are our councillors doing about it?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Joan Robinson (1919 - 2011)

Joan Robinson of Skeffling.   Passed away peacefully on Friday 22nd April 2011 aged 91 years.   Wife of the late Harry Robinson, mother of James and Mark, grandmother to Harry and Shelly.   If you want to attend the funeral service its on Friday 6th May at St Helens Church, Skeffling 2.15pm prior to interment in the churchyard.   The family has requested no flowers please, but donations, if desired, in Joan's memory for St Helens Church will be kindly appreciated and may be left at the service.
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