OMAHA -- (DTN) On Tuesday, a wind turbine caught fire in Stuart, Iowa, above a harvested soybean field. Smoke billowed for hours and eventually the turbine blade fell, causing fire and damage to farmland below.
In an interview with DTN, Jeremy Cooper, deputy emergency manager for Adair and Guthrie counties, said the turbine burned for several hours because local fire departments did not have the equipment to extinguish the top of it.
MidAmerican Energy Company, owner and operator of the wind turbine, was notified shortly before noon of the incident. No one was hurt, and for safety reasons, the area remains secured around the clock, said Geoff Greenwood, a MidAmerican Energy spokesperson, in an interview with DTN.
Cooper said the closest town to the fire is Menlo, part of the Des Moines-West Des Moines metropolitan area. The turbine was located a mile and a half south of Interstate 80. Any debris or fire that fell to the ground was contained by responding fire departments and there were no reports of debris traveling by air, Cooper said. The hydraulic fluid, a 55-gallon drum located at the base of the unit, did not pose a threat to the public, Cooper said.
MidAmerican operates more than 3,400 wind turbines at 37 wind farms in 33 counties across the state. Greenwood said incidents like this one are extremely rare.
"Over the past five years, we experienced three incidents, including the turbine fire this week, which required a fire department response," he said.
Because MidAmerican maintains an easement agreement with the landowner, Greenwood said the company will ensure that debris is promptly removed once thoroughly examined and any damage, including soil compaction, is remediated following the turbine replacement process.
"MidAmerican will compensate the landowner for any losses," he added. "We are working with the manufacturer, Vestas -- American Wind Technology, to determine what occurred and that process will include a root-cause analysis."
Wind turbine nacelle, the cover that houses all the power-generating components in a wind turbine, including the generator, gearbox, drive train and brake assembly, are mostly made of metal, but there are other materials -- fiberglass nacelle walls, insulation and lubricants -- that can burn if they get hot enough.
Although these incidents seem rare, they do happen. NextEra Energy Resources operates 119 wind farms and claims to have the largest market share of North American wind capacity. Investigative reporter Ken Braun with Capital Research Center said these "rare" problems have become hard to ignore (https://capitalresearch.org/…).
Braun found eight incidents over seven years, including an incident in northwest Iowa in which the local fire department believed the fire was caused by a mechanical malfunction, according to the Des Moines Register (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/…). Braun also included an incident from March 2023 that happened in rural western New York. The Hornell Sun newspaper reported, "fiberglass insulation material burned into the wind and was distributed across a wide area in the tiny town." Residents endured "fiberglass particles on their land, stuck in trees and presumably in ponds within the distribution area." (https://hornellsun.com/2023/04/21/heated-meeting-as-residents-with-fiberglass-particles-on-land-trees-and-possibly-ponds-question-wind-turbine-fire/)
Firetrace International, a company that specializes in automatic fire detection and suppression systems, reported that fire is the second leading cause of wind turbine accidents and that 91% of wind turbine fires go unreported (https://www.firetrace.com/…). In a guide to Wind Turbine Fire Protection published by Firetrace, the company said one in 2,000 wind turbines catch fire on and offshore, according to Wind Power Engineering Magazine (https://www.windpowerengineering.com/is-rope-based-descent-emergency-evacuation-at-the-end-of-its-tether/) in 2020. During a span of 20 years, a typical wind farm with 150 turbines will experience one to two fires, the report stated. An analysis by the International Association for Fire Safety Science stated the main causes of fire ignition in wind turbines are lightning strikes, electrical malfunction, mechanical malfunction and maintenance (https://publications.iafss.org/…).
Federal, state and local regulations govern aspects of wind energy development and location drives the levels of regulation required. A complete list of wind energy ordinances for local governments can be found here: https://windexchange.energy.gov/…
Greenwood from MidAmerican Energy said the company provides courtesy notifications on a case-by-case basis to any regulatory body that might have an interest, even if there's no obligation to provide a notice.
Susan Payne can be reached at email@example.com
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