By Stephen Smoot
The Pendleton County Commission tackled a light agenda in its second May meeting with the Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County present to share concerns over wind turbine safety.
Commissioner Roger Dahmer opened the meeting with the customary prayer, sharing, “Father, we pray that You speak to us and speak through us.”
Scott Somerville rose to represent the Facebook group. He started his talk with “I really appreciate the service you all do for the county,” referring to recent lengthy meetings and work sessions undertaken by the body. Then he shared the concerns of his group over the potential fire hazard inherent in wind energy devices, saying “industrial wind turbines are a known fire hazard.”
He discussed the potential for serious damage should a wind turbine catch fire from either a lightning strike or mechanical malfunction. The height of turbines, he said, could make putting fires out problematic. “They are way up there. You can’t put them out,” Somerville said.
Somerville’s next point was that wind turbines can take advantage of reasonably relaxed liability laws for utilities that spare them from the cost of fires caused by downed lines. He then suggested to the county commission that they require any wind turbine operation to carry insurance sufficient to pay for any potential damages from their operation.
In the online publication Wind Systems, 14-year wind energy safety professional Angela Krcmar shared details about turbine fires. She related that turbine fire statistics as of 2021 remained spotty, that fires could occur anywhere between one in 2,000 and one in 15,000.
Krcmar also related that “a wind turbine fire can cost upwards of $8 million, according to insurance experts.” She added that “a wind-turbine fire can spread to the surrounding environment, sparking wildfires and potentially spreading into nearby communities.” Wind turbines do not cause as many such accidents as traditional utilities, but they are also not regulated as tightly as power plants.
She added that “stakeholders at the government and community level are likely to push for regulatory changes to ensure any wind-turbine fires are suppressed before the flames can spread beyond the asset.”
In a different article for Windpower Engineering and Development written in 2020, Krcmar warned that “a wind farm can expect to face one to two fires over the course of its operational lifetime.” Also, since most fire response units do not have the equipment to combat a fire at the elevation of the turbine unit, they are generally relegated to a reactionary role, trying to prevent their spread.
County departments had little to update. In other business, the commission approved keeping Carrie Heavner on the library board for another five-year term.
Commissioners also approved a reimbursement for the South Fork Volunteer Fire Department. During their response to the wildfires, one of their vehicles blew out a clutch. The cost of replacement was approximately $2,500.