Mon August 23, 2010
Reinventing the Windmill

Cause of turbine crash unknown after 8 months

It's rare for a wind turbine to collapse, bringing down enormous steel blades and tons of machinery. But that's what happened last December at the Fenner wind farm, located in the rolling hills between Syracuse and Utica.

What caused the turbine to collapse is unknown. 

“It had snapped out of its base, "said Hank Sennott, an official with Enel North America, which owns Fenner wind farm. "If you want to think of it as a mushroom on a mushroom stem, it was like the stem was snapped out of the mushroom. The turbine didn’t break, it didn’t shatter, it just fell out of the foundation.”

He says they’ve ruled out shoddy construction, inappropriate materials, and design flaws as causes. Historic load over ten years of operation is a still possible factor. 

Investigators are perplexed, because something like this has never happened before, according to Sennott. He said having a new national energy policy could help companies, like Enel, in situations like this, because everyone would abide by a uniform standard.

”Without a national standard, in the renewable energy business you continually – if you’re in 25 states, you’re playing with 25 sets of rules,” said Sennott. 

With no uniform national (or state) energy standard, it’s up to local governments to set guidelines for installing wind turbines. Some have rigid regulations, and some don’t.

“Many state and local governments aren’t up to the task of doing these kinds of jobs,” said Grant Reeher, with the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University. He said inconsistent standards from community to community complicate upholding safety standards. 

Creating any sort of new energy policy is on hold in Congress, so energy companies will have to wait for a single set of rules.

In the meantime, Sennott says the company hopes to have a final report out soon, to determine the cause of the wind turbine’s collapse in Fenner.