Wind turbine Fire at Ocotillo

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1On January 15, there was a wind turbine fire at Ocotillo, CA.  The incident might have been less significant anywhere else, but this wind project has been having problems ever since it went online.

Photo Credit: WInd Turbines Surrounding Ocotillo, CA by Jim Pelley
Photo Credit: WInd Turbines Surrounding Ocotillo, CA by Jim Pelley

Six months after the project officially went online, a 173 foot-long-blade flew off one of the turbines.

The project is now two years old and, according to Ocotillo resident Jim Pelley:

  • the developers have replaced  10 blades
  • they have replaced the “Yaw Gear Drives” on about 3 different turbines,
  • There is no known tally of the number of turbines leaking oil, but Pelley believes that it is around 70%
  • The wind speeds at Ocotillo are usually slight, in most videos he reports somewhere between 0and 4 mph, and the turbines do not even produce much energy.

You don’t have to take his word for it, because he and his neighbour Parke Ewing have documented everything . Pelley has a youtube channel called Save Ocotillo where he has posted hundreds of videos recording the day’s wind speeds, any significant events and personal observations. Parke Ewing has a well visited Facebook page called Ocotillo Wind Turbine Destruction. Their documentation is so extensive that anyone interested in wind energy, regardless of your opinion, should visit it.

Photo Credit: WInd Turbines Surrounding Ocotillo, CA by Jim Pelley
Photo Credit: WInd Turbines Surrounding Ocotillo, CA by Jim Pelley

Some might argue that they are “nimbys,” but that is really the point. They do not their town to be surrounded by 438 foot high wind turbines that come within half a mile of many dwellings. They hate the noise, when the turbines are working, and flashing lights at night. Ever since the surface of the desert was scrapped clear of vegetation, to make way for the wind project, Ocotillo has been inflicted by gigantic dust storms when there are strong winds. On two occasions, the rains carried a strange white foam from the turbines into Ocotillo.

The real issue for Southern Californian communities fighting industrialization  is social license, not Climate Change! They are against massive behemoths which often have negative impacts on their environment, but usually also endorse rooftop solar.  Do they have a voice in their future? Or is this something to be decided by outsiders: governmental and  corporate? Why can’t industrial scale development be put on land where it is not disrupting their lifestyles?

(photo Credit) WInd turbine #110 that caught on fire at Ocotillo by Jim Pelley
(photo Credit) WInd turbine #110 that caught on fire at Ocotillo by Jim Pelley

According to the account in East County Magazine, the fire in turbine #110 was isolated to one turbine and “self extinguished.” A spokesperson from the manufacturer (Siemens), said there were no injuries and an investigation is underway to determine the cause.

He said, “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.”

I phoned Siemens with my own questions.  Some were about the fire in #110, but others were designed to get a better perspective on the overall situation. After listening for a couple of minutes, they suggested I write them an email. I asked:

  • Do they know what caused this fire?
  • How often turbine fires occur? Are they, for example, as common as traffic accidents are for automobile drivers?
  • What about the oil leaks? the blade replacements? the three replaced yaw gears? Is this normal for a two year old wind farm?
  • There are also some extreme conditions at Ocotillo. I have seen videos of those incredible dust storms. There are good winds at times, but they are more often 0-4 mph and there are occasionally incredible blow ups. Is this a an exceptionally difficult location?
(photo Credit) Fire Truck near WInd turbine #110 fire at Ocotillo by Jim Pelley
(photo Credit) Fire Truck near WInd turbine #110 fire at Ocotillo by Jim Pelley

I sent that email on January 19 and, when there was no response, asked how it was coming on the 21st. It is now January 24 and I no longer expect an answer.

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