A recent news report of a turbine fire in Oklahoma is of concern to people who face the possibility or reality of living in the shadow of hundreds of these structures in north-central Indiana. It wasn’t just the acres burned at the base of the turbine that concerned residents, but the thick black smoke that fouled the air for miles around. Burning plastic and hydraulic fluid is not a smell one soon forgets. Turbine fires are typically caused by localized electrical issues – arcs or overheating in the turbine, with the fire being fueled by high winds, and are the second most common turbine structural failure (the most common being a failure of the blades). Turbines fires can also be ignited by lightening strikes.
It is not dissimilar to another report of a turbine fire in Benton County, Indiana just a few years ago. We rely on our public officials to be concerned about the safety and welfare of residents of our community. It deeply concerns us when they appear to not be concerned about such things and are dismissive of citizens who remind them of the risks of fire or falling ice.
Wind developers will tell you that these accidents are rare – that they won’t happen here. They’ll tell you that statistically you have a far greater chance of being injured in a thunderstorm, a tornado or an automobile accident. We cannot control the weather – that is true, and we do accept some risks living in an area where severe weather is part of the package. Most people take precautions against these uncontrollable risks – home insurance, weather radios, a safety plan for family members during a storm. Some people even consider the possibility of severe weather when they decide where to live.
It doesn’t take much research to find out that accidents and malfunctions of wind turbines, including serious injury, property damage or death, are not rare at all.
Because the wind industry does not collect these unflattering statistics, others do. Click HERE for a database of wind turbine accidents (summary and detail, with verified sources).
We have an obligation to mitigate or avoid altogether serious risks that are avoidable. We wear seatbelts and are required to do so by law. We have and abide by regulations imposed on how and where certain structures can be built and how we dispose of potentially hazardous waste or how we protect the safety of the water and air around us. Even when the risks we are attempting to mitigate are not having our activities on our own land be a nuisance to our neighbors, we have an obligation to live as a community – to not allow or to set limits on activities that pose such risks.
Such risk mitigation is the primary reason for zoning and setbacks. These rules increase the probability that we can live peaceably and safely together while preserving property rights of both those who want wind development and those who do not. The only complete mitigation for issues with wind development is distance from non-participating landowners, populated communities and roads, rivers & other fragile natural features.
Public policy and economic development policy must include a fair consideration of safety alongside the potential economic benefits of industrial wind development. According to an article on fire suppression and regulation for wind turbines, Mark Johnston, a Renewable Energy Fire-prevention Specialist with Bulldog Turbine Systems says,
“Without set laws, wind-farm owners must independently develop their own fire-emergency plans. Most wind turbines do not routinely have fire-detection and control systems installed by OEMs because, according to Johnston, this option is simply not ordered or required by the end user.”
- Are the rural communities of Indiana prepared to fight fires at more than 600 feet elevation?
- Are the hazards of falling burning debris on crops and pastures, nearby structures, homes and residents adequately protected in setback requirements? Who is liable for these and other damages?
- The zoning ordinances related to commercial wind energy in the proposed Harvest Wind project in Cass, Miami and Fulton counties (Indiana) do not mandate fire suppression systems. Why not?