Safety fears as turbines toppled

CAMPAIGNERS are welcoming an inquiry into the safety of wind turbines after two came crashing down.

Damaged wind turbine

CAMPAIGNERS are welcoming an inquiry into the safety of wind turbines after two came crashing down.

The manufacturer behind some of the largest wind turbines planned for use in the North-East is conducting an internal review to find why two of its structures buckled in high winds and collapsed.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched an investigation but is awaiting the results of the company’s own review before it decides what action to take.

The first turbine collapsed in Scotland last November, followed by a second collapse near Dalston, Cumbria, last week.

That turbine was at Hesket Newmarket, west of the M6 motorway, half way between Carlisle and Penrith.

The turbines, manufactured by Vestas, are the same model as the six in use at the Sunderland Nissan site. A further six Vestas turbines are planned for the Barmoor site near Berwick, Northumberland.

The machines are thought to be the only turbines to have collapsed in the UK.

Wind farm campaigner John Ferguson, from Northumberland group Save Our Unspoilt Landscape, welcomed the inquiry.

He said: “If there is a risk, then it is important we find out now rather than when the turbines are in operation.

“The British Wind Energy Association and others seem to brush over the risk here, but these are serious safety concerns.

“How long before the renewable energy industry is subject to the same public scrutiny as other industries?”

Berwick Council is currently considering an application by Force 9 Energy to install six 110.5-metre turbines at Barmoor.

A council spokeswoman said the turbines proposed were subject to change and she would not comment further on the Vestas inquiry. After the Cumbria collapse the British Wind Energy Association, which represents 98% of UK wind energy firms, pledged to help the HSE and abide by any decisions reached. The 11-tonne Cumbrian turbine had been in operation for 19 years.

The collapse came just two months after the Scottish turbine at a wind farm in Argyll and Bute “bent in half” during strong winds.

Scottish Power, which runs the site, switched off 26 turbines for 14 days while it investigated the collapse. The two incidents involved the V47 turbine, which is the subject of the immediate HSE concerns.

An HSE spokesman said: “The manufacturer has informed us they are looking into this and the HSE will act on their findings.

“This is very much an ongoing investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment further. We will await their findings and then Government scientists will look into it further.”

The Journal attempted to contact Vestas via its press office in Denmark, but a spokesman was not available to comment.

Force 9 Energy was repeatedly approached for comment on the safety issue but was not available yesterday.

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Venerable machine

THE Cumbrian turbine was the region’s oldest and its collapse is thought to be the first such incident in England.

The turbine fell on January 4, landing alongside a quiet country road in the Hesket Newmarket area.

The 100ft turbine weighed 11 tonnes and had been in regular use throughout its 19-year
history.

No one was hurt when it collapsed at 11.30am.

After the Cumbria crash the British Wind Energy Association said it was the first it had heard of.

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Burning blades amazed drivers

THE latest safety concerns are not the first time the Vestas have come under scrutiny.

In December 2005, staff at the Nissan car plant near Sunderland watched as a turbine continued to turn while fire blazed across its blades.

The turbine had been leaking oil and when engineers switched it back on, the problem they thought they had solved caused a fire that could be seen for miles around.

Hundreds of motorists on the A19 watched as the carbon fibre rotor blades caught fire and broke
off.

Firefighters who tackled the blaze said they had received more than 200 calls. Witnesses said the turbine had looked like a giant, flaming Catherine wheel.

The turbine was replaced the following year.

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Proposals to face nine-week inquiry

A NINE-WEEK public inquiry into the development of wind farms in Northumberland will begin next week.

On Tuesday, (Jan 15) developers, council representatives and county residents are due to descend on the Britannia Hotel at Newcastle Airport, near Ponteland, to discuss the issues surrounding three proposed wind farms.

First to be heard will be the potential developers Steadings Wind Farm Ltd, Amec Projects Investments, and Wind Prospect Development Ltd, all hoping to create renewable energy plants in North Tynedale.

The inquiry will also hear from objectors Tynedale District Council and other interested parties, including Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park Authority, the Ministry of Defence and Newcastle International Airport.

Tynedale Council planning director Helen Winter said: “The council is concerned about the effects of the proposals on the landscape, on the historic heritage of the area, on tourism and the impact on civil and military aviation interests.

“We do not wish to prevent renewable energy development from taking place, but we do wish to see the right proposals come forward in the right locations.”

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