By Henri Migala and Miriam Raftery
Photos courtesy of Ocotillo Wind Turbine Destruction on Facebook
September 20, 2021 (Ocotillo) – Residents in Ocotillo are voicing concerns after yet another wind turbine collapse at the Ocotillo Wind Energy facility. There were no injuries or damage to other structures when the 300-foot-tall turbine crashed to the desert floor at the trouble-prone facility on Thursday, September 16. But residents are raising serious questions over public safety at the site, which produces energy to SDG&E to power the San Diego region.
Another turbine collapsed back in 2016 at the project, which was built on public land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, as ECM reported, prompting an inquiry by State Senator Ben Hueso. The manufacturer, Siemens, blamed that failure on a malfunction that resulted in a blade striking the tower, but has a long history of turbine failures.
Ocotillo Wind, built by Pattern Energy, also had a wind turbine fire in January 2015 and an 11-ton blade hurled off onto a public trail in May 2013, among other mechanical failures, as ECM reported. The project has around 112 turbines in total. An ECM investigation after the blade fell off prompted a worldwide curtailment found the history riddled with allegations that also included bribery, corruption and other scandals.
In 2014, ECM revealed that an international wind expert concluded that the project’s developers had defrauded the federal government to pocket subsidies, falsifying data to imply the site had higher wind speeds than exist in Ocotillo In records pulled by ECM for several years after the project was built, it had failed to produce the amount of promised power each year.
Then-Congressman Bob Filner warned the Treasury Department about the fraud allegations and suggested the project should be halted. The California Native American Heritage Commission also found the project was on sacred sites and urged then-state Attorney General Kamala Harris to sue the federal government to halt the project, but she cited a conflict of interested and no filing was done. Tribes implored then-President Obama to stop the project, but it proceeded.
Residents of Ocotillo have been subjected to perils resulting from the wind project beyond blades hurling off and turbines collapsing. Stripping bare topsoil has led to massive dust storms and chemicals used to control dust resulted in potentially toxic white sludge flowing through the streets during storms – a substance that becomes flammable once it dries out, as ECM reported.
For beleaguered residents, enough is enough.
According to Linda Wells, who has lived in Ocotillo for over 30 years, “it’s been the hottest summer ever and the turbines are just breaking down. It’s just the kind of thing they said would never happen.”
Wells continued, “Pattern Energy is in charge of the field. They installed it, and they made all the promises. And they’re the ones who lied to us. They’re leaving old turbine blades laying around. They can’t get anyone to haul them off, about 5-6 of them. And the others are cracking and spilling oil all over the desert. They drip oil, and not only a little bit. I’m talking gallons and gallons. The oil gets on the blades, which then slings the oil all over the desert. They’re doing exactly what they said would never happen.”
Linda’s husband, Park Ewing, created a Facebook page called Ocotillo Wind Turbine Destruction, which provides photos and stories about the Ocotillo Wind project.
The project was among the first to be fast-tracked by the federal government with a goal to accelerate production of clean, green energy to help combat climate changes.
The estimated lifespan of a wind turbine is around 20 years and it is unclear why Ocotillo has had so many serious equipment failures with the Siemens 2.37 megawatt turbines.
Beth O’Brien, spokesperson for Pattern Energy, responded to questions sent by Parke Ewing about the latest turbine collapse, which occurred in the northwest section of the site within a designated setback zone around the turbine base, she stated.
“No one was injured,” the Pattern spokesperson confirmed, adding, “We are working closely with the turbine manufacturer, Siemens Gamesa, to identify the root cause of the failure and a full investigation is underway. Relevant authorities have been notified. We are taking this issue very seriously and will communicate more information as it becomes available.”
The Bureau of Land Management, which owns the property on which the wind project sits, did not return ECM's request for comments.
Gilbert Rebollar, Imperial County public information officer, said the county is aware of the incident and has “established communication with Pattern energy,” the Imperial Valley Press reports.
But some residents are fed up with problems at the wind site with its trouble-prone turbines. Resident Linda Muir posted on Facebook, ‘Will they all have to collapse before they clean up any of the property????”