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Part III in our series on the Ocotillo wind turbine collapse

By Miriam Raftery

Photos by Jim Pelley

December  11, 2016 (Ocotillo) – State Senator Ben Hueso (D-40th district) wants to know why a massive wind turbine collapsed on November 21st  in Ocotillo on public land—and what will be done to prevent future such disasters.

In a letter to Beth O’Brien,  Pattern Energy’s manager of external affairs,  Senator Hueso notes that this is the third serious incident that has occurred at the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facilitiy since it opened approximately four years ago.  Prior problems include a wind turbine that burst into flames and another that hurled a multi-ton blade onto a public trail.

He indicated that residents have contacted him with concerns and asked him to look into the matter.  East County Magazine also contacted the Senator to ask what steps will be taken to protect public safety.

Hueso’s letter states that  “the health and safety of my constituents are my utmost priorities” adding that he wants to be sure that activities in or near a residential area do not harm  residents. 

He asked three pointed questions:

  1. What is the cause of the failure;
  2. What is Pattern doing to address this matter; and
  3. What steps are you taking to prevent this from happening in the future?

Senator Hueso’s office later indicated that he will also be sending a similar letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, since the project is on federal public land.

According to an investigation conducted by manufacturer Siemens, the 500-foot-tall Siemens 2.3-108 wind turbine (number T-126) collapse has been determined to have been caused by a blade failure that resulted in the blade striking the tower,  the Ocotillo Wind website reports. The site adds, "The blade failure that occurred in this event was determined to be unrelated to the blade failure observed in 2013 at the facility.”

This failure of T-126 is believed to have resulted from cracks in the structural member of the interior of the blade known as the shear web blade. Siemens claims that it has manufactured over 2,100 turbine blades identical to those at Ocotillo Wind and that this is the first time a failure of this nature has occurred, though the company has had other blade failures elsewhere.

“This type of crack is slow to develop and can be seen via visual inspection of the inside of the blade prior to progressing to failure,” the site states,  adding that Siemens has recently begun conducting internal inspections of all blades at Ocotillo Wind. The company statement concludes, “We are committed to complete these inspections and return individual turbines to service only after confirming this type of incident is unlikely to recur.”

Siemens did not comment on whether this "first time" failure of this nature may have been related to Pattern Energy installing larger blades than recoommended for the turbine towers at this project.

For now,  three weeks after the collapse, the wind project remains offline.

Residents have also objected to Pattern's statement that the blade fell within a designated setback zone,  noting that there are no setbacks to prevent the public from walking near or even directly under the turbine blades--and in fact the earlier blade failure resulted in a multi-ton blade dropped onto a public trail frequented by off-road vehicles in this desert community.Other turbines are close to homes,  roads, and Interstate 8.

A website titled Ocotillo Wind Turbine Destruction  set up by residents opposed to the project includes a post confirming that  the number of technicians has increased tremendously since the collapse.  The post concludes, “We still have our fingers crossed on shutting this place down... It has been very very nice without the noise and spinning blades.”


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Ocotillo Wind Farm

You have got to be kidding me. All of these people complaining about the wind farm in Ocotillo. That is the only thing I look forward to seeing when I drive through Ocotillo. And the common people don't realize the economic impact of projects like that, from community donations to property taxes, money spent during construction and operations by visitors, maintenance teams, etc. I cannot think of a dollar I have spent in Ocotillo in the 42 years I have been passing through it, so you should be happy there is something to generate revenue. I hear Apple and Google are moving their next. Oh wait, maybe not. All 5 of you should be happy we are talking about Ocotillo at all.

MAcD, you don't have to live with the turbines.

While you may enjoy seeing them passing through,  the impacts on the community have been profoundly negative from what we've seen.

Property values have gone down as nobody wants to buy homes near these things.  Spraying pesticides to retard weed growth around the turbines killed off the desert wildflowers that used to bring people to the town.  There are no tourists coming to see the wind turbines and even the wind workers during construction didn't eat in town or spend money there.  There is almost nobody onsite these days.

Residents however are left with obstructed views, after retiring and moving out there to get away from urbanization and enjoy the desert's natural beauty.  They have red lights flashing on and off all night, shining right into their windows. When the wind blows there's noise and infrasound issues.  The bighorn sheep have gone away.  There are also obvious safety concerns with a turbine collapse, a prior blade that fell off, and a turbine that caught fire. 

During construction there were massive dust storms caused by the construction in an area with Valley Fever spores in the dirt stirred up and high rates of childhood asthma.  The developer also flooded the town with a dust suppression chemical that formed a white sludgy foam and that once dried out on people's yards and streets was flamamble.

Plus they mowed down thickets of century-old ocotillos to build these things.  Each turbine took 10 trucks to deliver to the site becuase they are so big, and they were made and shipped from far away. How much fossil fuel did all of that take? 

They also leak hydraulic fluid onto the desert floor, and even more when this one collapsed.

This is in a very seismically active area capable of a 7.2 quake or stronger, on soil known to liquify in a big quake.

What happens then?







Wind Turbine questions

Good to see Ben Hueso isn't spending ALL his time trying to legislate free legal aid to illegals at tax payers expense. Perhaps his time would be better spent going after the people that got rich and lied to the State of Calif in order to dump this under-achieving windmill forest in our desert.