Planet Gore

Wind Power’s other unreliability problem

People have written at length concerning the numerous failings, weakness and drawbacks of the government push for wind power.  Most feel that the greatest weakness of windpower is its unreliability or, more accurately, its intermittency. 

A second reliability problem has drawn little attention despite an worthwhile feature story that ran in Business Week in August. 
Business Week’s story ran in the aftermath of the late August collapse of a wind turbine in Sherman County Oregon which killed one worker and seiously injured a second.  While this is may be the first recorded death from a wind turbine collapse, it is not the first recorded failure (This does not count any big rigs carrying wind blades or towers that have wrecked killing or injuring either the driver or other vehicle drivers and passengers).  The European experience is instructive, because they have much more experience – both in years and numbers of turbines – than the U.S.   Thousands of mishaps, breakdowns and accidents have been reported in recent years.   Gearboxes atop of the towering masts have short shelf lives, often failing in less than five years. After only limited operation, fractures have been found both in the rotors and in the concrete foundation anchoring the towering turbines. Short circuits and overheated propellers have caused fires. And all this despite, as Business Week reports, “manufacturers’ promises that the turbines would last at least 20 years.”  This is adding to the expense of wind power.  Delivery of new rotor mounts can take up to 18 months (all the while the turbine(s) sit idle).  And new gear boxes can cost up to 10 percent of the original construction cost.  With many of the wind facilities up for new insurance coverage, insurers are now balking at providing new coverage without regular maintenance agreements and at much higher prices.  One insurer reported more than 1000 claims alone in 2006, not including uninsured malfunctions and breakdowns. While there have been no deaths from mechanical failure of wind turbines in Europe, in 2006 alone the incidents that have occurred hint that such a result may only be a matter of time.  In one incident, in the city of Trier fragments of a broken rotor blade landed on a road shortly before rush hour traffic.  In another mishap, two wind turbines caught fire near Osnabrück and in the Havelland region while firefighters could only watch since their ladders weren’t tall enough to reach the fire. And in Schleswig-Holstein, a 230-foot tall wind turbine folded in half in -right next to a highway.

Could this be a preview of things to come in the U.S. ?

H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education institute in Dallas, Texas. While he works ...

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