Duke Energy's 153 MW Notrees Wind Farm recently celebrated more than three years without a recorded safety incident since construction on the project began in 2009. The wind farm, which features 55 Vestas 1.65 MW turbines and 40 GE 1.5 MW machines, is located in Texas' Ector and Winkler counties.
‘Safety comes first,’ explains Casey Hayes, plant manager at Duke Energy. ‘We don't sacrifice safety for production.’
In fact, it is not uncommon for the entire wind farm to suspend operations in the event of a near-miss – for instance, a dropped tool inside a nacelle – even if it means curtailing wind farm output.
If the need arises, Hayes addresses the situation immediately.
‘We get everyone in a room, and we talk about it,’ he says. ‘I don't care if we're in the middle of a maintenance cycle. While no one got hurt, there may be techs inside some other towers on the wind farm that could be affected.’
The achievement is even more impressive when you consider that there are three companies working on-site at Notrees: Duke Energy, turbine manufacturer Vestas and Medford, Ore.-based service provider UpWind Solutions, which services the GE turbines. Each technician is treated equally, regardless of his or her employer.
‘What we have seen is that focusing on every individual in each company fosters trust, and everyone responds when there is a safety concern,’ says Parker Greene, site manager and one of 10 Vestas employees located on-site. ‘The buy-in from the technicians and office employees has kept us safe."
‘It's a brotherhood here," Hayes agrees. "We want to make sure that these guys get home to their wives and kids with all their fingers and toes.’
The safety milestone is difficult to achieve, in part, because no North American industry classification system or standard industrial classification exists for the wind industry. Therefore, statistics on incidents and accidents at wind farms are harder to track. The American Wind Energy Association only recently began to compile such safety statistics.
Nonetheless, Hayes credits Duke's attention to detail and adherence to safety procedures in maintaining the wind farm's safety culture. For example, there are mandatory weekly safety meetings at the site.
‘If we compromise one time what we're doing in lieu of production,’ Hayes says, ‘then we're just a bunch of puppets sitting around in an office.’
And Duke company executives have taken note. Gradually, they have begun to transfer some of the safety culture at Notrees to other company-owned wind farms. For example, Stuart Gibson, former lead technician at Notrees, was promoted in 2010 to site manager at Duke's Ocotillo wind farm, a 59 MW facility in Texas.
Another key to building a safety culture are recognition programs celebrating milestones. For example, for every 30 days that pass without an incident, Hayes gathers the technicians inside the site operations and treats them to a catered lunch. More elaborate celebrations occur at larger milestones.
‘For me, it's an opportunity to talk up close with the technicians and ask them for their opinion about what we're doing safety-wise,’ Hayes explains.
‘You can't just have the stick; you need to have the reward too,’ Greene adds.
The Notrees venture has been so successful that Duke Energy recently extended its maintenance service contract with Vestas for another three years.
‘Safety comes first; operations come second at Notrees,’ says Mike Kelley, Upwind's director of environmental safety and health. ‘Duke takes it to the nth degree, and you don't always have that at other sites.’
Photo courtesy of Duke Energy