GE Investigates Turbine Blade Breaks
At press time, turbine manufacturer GE is investigating a series of recent blade breaks, and the company says it has notified a group of customers that might have affected blades.
The latest incident occurred at Invenergy’s California Ridge wind farm in Illinois on the night of Nov. 20. This follows a previous blade failure that happened three days earlier at the developer’s Orangeville project in New York and two recent blade breaks at DTE Energy wind farms in Michigan.
GE spokesperson Lindsay Theile confirms all four incidents involved the company’s 1.6-100 wind turbines with 48.7-meter blades. She also notes that although blade breaks are rare in the wind industry, they do happen.
Invenergy’s 217.1 MW California Ridge project, which entered operation last year, features 134 GE 1.6-100 turbines. The developer says the blade broke and fell at the base of the project’s 134th unit.
“We believe that as this blade fell, it hit a second blade on the same turbine, causing that second blade also to break off and fall to the ground near the base,” Invenergy says in a statement. “As designed, the turbine automatically ceased operation. No one was injured.”
As it turns out, this is not the first blade break at the California Ridge wind farm; Invenergy verifies that one had occurred in November 2012.
The developer is also working with GE to investigate a blade failure at the 94 MW Orangeville wind farm in New York. On the morning of Nov. 17, the blade fell near the turbine’s base.
Invenergy had finished construction at the project and began commissioning its 58 GE wind turbines. Commissioning of “turbine 34” started on Nov. 13, and the machine was operating when the incident occurred days later. According to a local news story from WGRZ, witnesses reported no high winds or harsh weather that morning.
“Out of caution,” the developer immediately ceased all turbine commissioning and suspended operations at the wind farm.
Prior to the recent Invenergy incidents, two other GE blades broke off at DTE Energy wind farms in Michigan.
On Nov. 7, only 10 days before the event at Orangeville, DTE Energy halted work on its 112 MW Echo Wind Park after a blade failure. Project workers had erected – and commissioned along the way – 59 of Echo’s 70 wind turbines. Scott Simons, a DTE Energy spokesperson, said GE was performing a six-hour reliability test on the 60th turbine when the blade fell.
“We have ceased all work and operation on the project until we’re satisfied with what the root cause is and that it doesn’t pose a danger of any continued blade failure,” Simons explained. The event represents a setback for the Echo project, as the entire park was scheduled to be online by the end of November.
This followed a similar incident involving the same GE blade at DTE’s 110 MW Thumb Wind Park in March. That project was already online, but DTE halted operation until a solution was found. GE later said that blade had broken off because of an “isolated supplier manufacturing defect,” and DTE resumed operations at the wind farm.
GE is in the process of investigating the new incidents at Invenergy’s California Ridge and Orangeville projects, as well as at DTE Energy’s 12 MW Echo Wind Park. Theile says she cannot publicly disclose much detail at this time, but GE has also identified a “suspect population” of 48.7-meter blades and contacted other potentially affected customers.
“We are still going through the root cause analyses, which take time, but our teams have been able to identify the population of blades that could have similarities to what we’ve seen,” she says. Theile also notes that GE’s 48.7-meter blades are on various turbine models, though the majority of them are featured on the 1.6-100 machines.
Overall, Theile explains GE’s so-called suspect population represents about 1.5% of its total blades in the company’s wind turbine fleet of more than 22,000. “It’s a very small portion of our blades in the grand scheme of things.”
“We have notified those customers with turbines within this population and are closely working with them to keep their turbines running reliably and safely,” she says. GE is focused on answering the customers’ questions and providing detailed updates on the company’s ongoing investigations.
“We’re sharing with our customers because it’s their fleet and their operations,” Theile says. However, she notes GE will not likely make much more information publicly available until the root cause analyses are thoroughly complete.
Duke Energy Settles
Duke Energy Renewables, a commercial business unit of Duke Energy, has reached a $1 million settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the deaths of golden eagles and other migratory birds at two of Duke’s wind farms in Wyoming. According to the DOJ, this case represents the first-ever criminal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for unpermitted avian takings at wind projects.
The DOJ says the charges stem from the discovery of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows, by Duke at its 200 MW Top of the World and 99 MW Campbell Hill wind farms between 2009 and 2013. Duke Energy, which became the subject of the investigation earlier this year, notes that golden eagles are not listed as threatened or endangered under U.S. law; however, they are protected under the MBTA.
Federal fines and restitution of $1 million will be levied against Duke Energy Renewables. The company says these funds will be dispersed to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and The Conservation Fund.
Under the plea agreement, the DOJ explains, Duke has been placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four commercial wind projects in Wyoming. Duke is also required to apply for an eagle take permit.
“Our goal is to provide the benefits of wind energy in the most environmentally responsible way possible,” says Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables. “We deeply regret the impacts to golden eagles at two of our wind facilities. We have always self-reported all incidents, and from the time we discovered the first fatality, we’ve been working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS] to take proactive steps to correct the problem.”
According to Duke, among these steps have been installing and testing new radar technology, instituting a curtailment program using field biologists, and removing rock and debris piles that attract eagle prey.
“In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths,” comments Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“To its credit, once the projects came online and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement, has committed to an extensive compliance plan to minimize bird deaths at its Wyoming facilities and to devote resources to eagle preservation and rehabilitation efforts.”
Tim Hayes, environmental development director at Duke Energy Renewables, says the company’s mitigation plans show promise.
“Our voluntary monitoring and curtailment of turbines have been effective,” he says. “Upon implementing these measures, more than a year passed without any known golden eagle fatalities at these sites.”
Nonetheless, the FWS says that no one is exempt from the law.
“The Service works cooperatively with companies that make all reasonable efforts to avoid killing migratory birds during design, construction and operation of industrial facilities,” comments William Woody, the agency’s assistant director for law enforcement.
“But we will continue to investigate and refer for prosecution cases in which companies – in any sector, including the wind industry – fail to comply with the laws that protect the public’s wildlife resources.” w
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GE Investigates Turbine Blade Breaks
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