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By Miriam Raftery

January 17, 2015 (Ocotillo) –A wind turbine at the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility burst into flames on January 15th.  East County Magazine photographer Jim Pelley, an Ocotillo resident, caught the incident on video: The Siemens 2.3-108 turbine was a 2.3 megawatt  model with 108 meter blades.  The turbine (#110) is located along a mining road.

“There were no injuries,” Jeff Grappone from Siemens told ECM.  An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire, he stated in an e-mail.  The equipment impacted (six turbines on one circuit) has been de-energized, a safe perimeter established and the tower is being monitored continuously, he indicated.

Grappone added that a circuit of six turbines has been de-energized, however, he adds, “The fire was isolated to a single turbine in this circuit and we have no other concerns about the other five de-energized turbines, which will be returned to service as soon as possible.”

The fire department responded,  however the fire “self extinguished” without intervention, according to Grappone. Witnesses in Ocotillo confirmed that no firefighting efforts were observed.  Pelley voiced concern that no sirens from emergency vehicles were heard during the incident.

Grappone did not respond to ECM’s inquiry asking whether the turbine contained a fire suppression system in the nacelle.

The turbine that caught fire is not near homes, however others are withina half mile of houses, raising concerns over the potential for burning debris to threaten residences should any other turbine ignite.

Park Ewing, another Ocotillo resident, voiced concern over whether toxins were released by the blaze.

This is not the first serious incident at the facility, where among other concerns, a multi-ton blade fell off in May 2013, as ECM reported.

The Ocotillo wind project, though it surrounds homes,  is located in desert terrain where fire poses less of a hazard than in places with dense brush such as Campo, where a fire at the Kumeyaay Wind Farm in December 2013 sparked a brush fire that burned close to a home, panicking residents before it was extinguished. A prior explosion at that same facility in December 2010 results in replacement of all 25 turbines, which were off-line for months, as ECM reported.  The Campo project was developed by Babcock and Brown, predecessor of Pattern Energy, which built Ocotillo.

Asked  whether Siemens has had other fire issues at wind projects elsewhere, Grappone replied, “We have a strong fire resistance track record with very few isolated incidents affecting our global fleet of more than 6,800 of this type of turbine in operation.”

Pattern Energy, which developed the Ocotillo wind project, claimed in a community meeting in January 2010 that it had never had a fire with a Siemens 2.3 turbine model: and that turbine fires are extremely rare:

ECM has reported on numerous wind turbine fires in Southern California and around the world. While albeit a small percentage of the total wind turbines in operation, it only takes one to potentially ignite a devastating wildfire in the wrong location. 

An ECM reader’s poll back in 2012 found that 51% of readers would support a ban prohibiting industrial-scale wind turbines in wildfire-prone East County, while only 42% would oppose such a ban and 7% were not sure. That was before a spate of wind turbine fires in Southern California drew media attention in our area.

See our prior coverage on wind turbine fires:


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Extreme Fire Hazard

There are already signs at Cottonwood Campground in the McCain Valley Recreation Area, in both English and Spanish, warning to use extreme caution with fire and stating fireworks are prohibited. We have seen parts of the valley blackened by fire in the past. It's not a matter of if it will happen again, but when. East County Magazine, on August 23, 2013, reported on the Jawbone Canyon Recreation Area fire near Tehachapi that destroyed 19 wind turbines and damaged 9 others in that monster firestorm. That's a total of 28 torched wind turbines. That fire was started by lightning from a thunderstorm. That scenario could easily occur in McCain Valley. We should take heed.


America falls behind in the renewables race! Please see:

Sadly, I agree. Snowball's

Sadly, I agree. Snowball's chance in hell these monstrosities will be dismantled. And while every form of energy has it's risks, the advantages of the others--nuclear, hydroelectric, and fossil fuel--is that, unlike wind, they are powerful, reliable sources. Without massive government subsidies and traditional backup power plants, wind power wouldn't exist.

Honesty about our Energy Consumption

Miriam Raftery and Craig Maxwell both need to be totally honest with their readers regarding energy consumption in the US. I guarantee that Miriam, Craig, friends, East County Magazine and its employees, and readers obtained "99.99%" of their energy used today to power their water heaters (gas or electric), run their coffee pots, keep their food cool, keep their homes and apartments room temperature (70F), light up their personal spaces, iron their clothes, cook their breakfasts, and charged their cell phones, laptops, other smart mobile devices, and drive their vehicles by consuming "Fossil and/or Nuclear Energy Fuels". We all know that fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) are the dirtiest forms of energy sources on the face of the planet. We also know that nuclear contamination and waste are the most dangerous energy end products on the face of the planet (Google Japan Nuclear Accident and Contamination). I worked in the oil, gas, and coal fired electric power generation industries as a degreed professional. I also worked in the solar and wind industries. As you can imagine, the solar and wind industries are safer, cleaner, and more environmental sound than oil, gas, and coal fired electric power generation. If consumer could actually ”see how their energy is made”, they would be shocked by the amount of hazardous waste, landfill waste, ground water pollution, potable water/clean drinking water used for production, and particulate air pollution caused by their fossil and nuclear fuels consumption. I know because I have prepared waste and air permits for the oil, gas, and coal fired energy generation facilities. I also have overseen waste permits for solar and wind facilities. FYI, there are no air pollution permits required for solar and wind facilities because there is “no air pollution” during normal operating conditions. I find it hypocritical when Miriam Raftery and Craig Maxwell, and friends are critical of the solar/wind industries when their ACTUAL energy use behaviors include mindless consumption of dirty and dangerous fossil and nuclear fuels. Also, I find it appalling that these two have made assumptions based on opinions and biases instead of natural science, actual economics, and actual consumer energy consumption behaviors. With the above in mind, please suggest a safer and an alternative environmentally sound energy source that can be used on a large scale by the public. You cannot… Currently, solar and wind are the safest, cleanest, least impact, and most environmental sound energy sources that can be used on a large scale by the public (you). By making solar and wind energy widely available to our fellow Americans, our government does not have to send our sons and daughters overseas to fight a dirty war nor do we have to exploit impoverished, and war torn countries or support dictators to obtain sun and wind energy. The use and consumption of fossil and nuclear fuels are no different than obtaining blood diamonds from impoverished, war torn countries, and dictators. Blood fossil fuels are no different and we consumers are partly responsible for the pollution and environmental damage. Please be honest about YOUR energy choices and consumption!

Nuclear, not anymore

I can bet that San Diego Gas and Electric is no longer drawing any power from SONGS. (I am sure you know that acronym), Given the different authorized use of green energy, some of which is actually coming from the Geothermal station near Mexicali (it is winter, excess is sold to the US, by treaty and planning since 1970, or rather starting in 1970), as well as the use of different sources of renewables due to the RPS standard (I again realize you know what that means), I would say you are off in the 99.9% assumption. The first link between the two electrical grids was authorized by a Presidential finding, and the other two have as well. I am positive you realize how those findings along the San Diego, Baja region are also a precedent for the one along the Canadian border, something about tar sands. San Diego right now is down to anywhere from 90 to 85 percent even with the closure of SONGS. in the coming years, with the expansion of renewable green energy in the CaliBaja region that is expected to go as low as 70 percent for forms of energy that produce any GHG. Again, I am sure you are familiar with the acronym, or if you prefer gases de invernadero. Some hope that this will be even lower, and I think the Governor would love to, I include both the City and County of San Diego which are expected to get more aggressive along these lines. They are proposing policies that will push green energy to 100 percent by 3050. I am sorry I made that mistake 3035 it is expected to be higher, as the Governor has proposed a more aggressive RPS. BDAN, I am again positive you know who this is, has also authorized a few renewables in the region, one of them in Ramona, and a huge one in the Sierra Juarez, which is being run by SEMPRA's Mexican subsidiary, though they sold 50 Percent of it to a Canadian company. The project was authorized by SEMARNAT after a few environmental findings back in 2010 and phase I will be online this year, summer timeline. 100 percent of that electrical production is meant for the US Market. The other two phases are expected to go on line at the latest by 2020, and this system is expected to have a service lifetime of 35 years, which is standard for the industry as you are well aware. While I do not write for ECM, I take exception to people assuming that just them know how these policies work. I also take exception to insulting people instead of educating them. By the way, do you need any translation to the terms I just used? Nadin

The simple answer in San Diego is rooftop solar.

Jim Bell did an analysis that found there is more than enough suitable roof space to power our region 100% with rooftop solar - zero need for destructive remote projects in scenic areas like this, which create fire hazards, hurt residents and wildlife. I personally wanted solar when we reroofed but was sad to learn my old house is not braced to hold the weight and we could not afford $20,000 in engineering upgrades. We're an exception; most homes built in the past few decades CAN be adapted easily to solar. My prior home did have solar and it worked wonderfully, so I'm a huge fan of solar done right. We do conserve energy as many ways as we can with things like insulation and energy-star appliances. I hope to buy a hybrid or electric for my next vehicle; they were not options when I purchased my old but fuel-efficient Toyota. I do use mass transit when I can. I support policies to make solar as affordable and accessible as possible. Also policies to improve mass transit so more people can use their cars less or even do without a vehicle. In the past I commuted to school by bicycle and to work by bus when I lived in an area where this was available. Replacing one destructive technology with another, when there are better choices, makes no sense unless you're a utility industry executive or shareholder. If we want solar on a larger scale faster, we should incentivize putting it on shopping malls, universities, factories, large businesses, shading parking lots, etc.

A Failed Experiment

The Turbines need to be taken down. Yeah, I know. That will never happen. The flashing lights, bird deaths, and the noise and dust created by the operation and maintenance of the facility has ruined the peace and serenity the residents used to enjoy. I knew people who lived in Ocotillo, Jim and Janet owned a business there, a friend owned a home and would live there in the winter.

Compare This to Other Energy Sources.

If a rare self-extinguishing fire is all a wind turbine accident is, then wind turbines are far less risky than some other energy forms. A hydroelectric dam can burst and cause major floods. In normal operation, they create permanent floods of the land upstream of the dams which can pollute underground water tables. A nuclear power plant can meltdown and leave many square miles uninhabitable for hundreds of years. Normal operation leaves nuclear waste which no one can store safely. A fossil fuel plant creates toxic particulates, cancer causing ash, and CO2 greenhouse gas pollution, as part of normal operation. Fires and explosions result in accidents, especially during fuel transportation and mining operations. We have energy choices. Wind and solar farms, energy storage systems, over an intelligent and geographically distributed grid are very probably today's best choice.

Hat's off again to ECM for

Hat's off again to ECM for this late breaking coverage. Desert fire risk may be low, but how about places like Boulevard? Seems like a very dangerous experiment, even if wind turbines themselves seldom catch fire; after all, along with the turbines are miles of high voltage wire and massive substations--all of them in remote, forested areas.

Yes and each turbine holds hundreds of gallons of flammable

lubricating oil for the gears. Even if they are built right and don't explode, what happens if a monster firestorm that starts elsewhere reaches the wind farm, with a hundred turbines full of flammable oil? Remember that the Harris fire in that area was fueled by 100 mph hurricane-force winds during an extreme Santa Ana. I have been saying for sometime that I believe all of San Diego could be at risk if a wildfire hit a wind farm during Santa Ana conditions, especially if firefighters are spread thin by other fires. And in McCain Valley, which has just one road leading in and out, campers would be trapped if a turbine starts or spreads a fire, blocking their only escape. It's the definition of insanity. I rarely editorialize but on the issue, the facts are clear and every decision maker who votes to approve Tule Wind will have blood on their hands if this happens. Remember that Blackwater didn't believe me when I wrote an editorial warning that their proposed training camp in a Potrero Valley would be a death trap during a fire. Their VP swore on national TV that the valley would never burn, but it did the same day, when the Harris Fire hit their site. It also had only one way in and out. What if they'd had their bunkhouse with 200 men already built, and their ammunition storage facility the size of a city block full of explosives and ammo? Blackwater cancelled plans to build there after that, and while they claimed the cost of soundproofing was the reason, they knew from day one what was needed for that. I think they realized that not even Blackwater is a match for hellacious California firestorm. When will the decision makers learn that our backcountry in East County is the worst place to put anything flammable, especially in box canyons with only one way in and out?