Serious safety questions have gone completely unasked and unanswered, since the Neighborhood News reported that the north turbine caught fire in Fairhaven, MA in April of 2017—at least not publicly.
No one has asked Sumul Shah, the wind developer, if any other fires have occurred in these turbines before or since this incident.
Before they went up, Sumul Shah assured the Fairhaven Town Meeting that these two, Chinese-made turbines were very high quality, very quiet, and very safe. He said concerns expressed by opponents were overblown because turbine fires are so rare.
Almost from the start, however, the north turbine has been plagued by break downs that cast grave doubt on quality claims. Too bad there’s no lemon law for wind turbines.
Moreover, it’s now well-known, that these Sinovel turbines were built with control systems technology stolen from its Massachusetts-based partner, American Superconductor (AMSC). If a foreign manufacturer rips off its American partner and violates its contract, you have to wonder if it has also skirted federal and state safety standards to cut costs—especially, fire safety standards.
Once the Fairhaven Select Board learned that these turbines were actually cheap knockoffs of AMSC designs, why didn’t they ask for thoroughgoing, independent inspection of these turbines—not simply to identify patent violations, but to ensure full compliance with all federal, state and local safety regulations. You can’t buy a house or a car in Massachusetts without a safety inspection.
Contrary to Shah’s assurances, a recent study conducted by Imperial College, London’s “MIT,” revealed that fires are the second leading cause of turbine failures and they occur ten times more often than the wind industry reports them. Surprised?
According to the Neighborhood News story, this fire was spotted by a nearby Public Works employee, who promptly alerted the Fire Department. When firefighters arrived, however, the fire was already out. It had been extinguished by a maintenance worker who happened to be working in the nacelle at the time. What would have happened if no one had been there? And, if unnoticed, would the fire have been reported at all? No one has asked or answered these questions so far.
Shah was quoted as describing the cause as a ‘“little spark”’ emitted by the power converter. Perhaps he thought it would be comforting for turbine neighbors to know that even a small spark in a device capable of routinely producing 1.5 MW of electricity can ignite a fire.
The Imperial study points out that turbines, regardless of their quality, are highly susceptible to fires. The most frequent cause is lightning strikes, but they are also highly susceptible to electrical fires because enormous current flows in close proximity to highly flammable fuel sources such as hydraulic fluids and plastics; and an unlimited supply of oxygen is furnished by the wind.
Once ignited, turbine fires can quickly become extremely dangerous and extraordinarily difficult to fight, especially when conventional firefighting equipment and techniques are used. These are industrial-class fires which burn at extreme temperatures, 300 feet in the air, and typically spew huge volumes of toxic black fumes and burning debris for great distances downwind. Google ‘turbine fire videos’ and see for yourself.
There are no regulations in Fairhaven or Massachusetts specific to dangers posed by turbine fires, just as there are no special protections against the highly unusual dangers of turbine noise.
Did public officials ever ask, for example, if these turbines comply with basic American standards for fire suppression mechanisms? If so, then why didn’t they deploy automatically when the fire started in the north turbine that day? The deep conflicts of interest that arise from public-private “partnerships” seem almost inevitable—and public safety is usually the first casualty.
One common industrial safety system used for turbines is a high-pressure aerosol canister which automatically combusts at a certain temperature, flooding the nacelle with an non-flammable gas that deprives the fire of oxygen. These systems do not depend on power supplies or batteries to ensure that they will deploy. They are designed to go off automatically, just like sprinkler systems in public buildings. Again, if such systems were there, why didn’t they go off?
Whether officials in Fairhaven admit it or not, wind turbine fires represent a clear and present danger—especially when residents are living so close to these colossal tinderboxes! Turbine neighbors have a right to some answers.
If a more serious fire ever does break out, I would hope that firefighters devote their efforts entirely to keeping residents and themselves at a safe distance from these turbines. They aren’t worth a single hair on anyone’s head.