By JENNIFER BOGDAN Observer-Dispatch
State officials said the farm does not produce 80 megawatts of energy annually, and therefore, is not large enough to fall under their jurisdiction. Madison County officials also don’t believe they’re responsible for regulation and pointed to town officials for oversight.
However, officials in this rural town of about 1,600 residents said while they played a role in awarding permits for the project before it was completed in 2001, they thought that Enel North America, the company that operates the farm, was responsible for regulating the structures manufactured by General Electric.
“I think they’re pretty conscientious,” Fenner Supervisor Russell Cary said of Enel North America. “They don’t want this to happen again.”
The turbine, which weighed close to 190 tons, toppled over in a cornfield at about 4 a.m. Sunday, shutting down the wind farm’s 19 other turbines. No one was injured.
The collapse on Buyea Road in Fenner followed a power outage recorded at about 3:30 a.m., Enel North America spokesman Hank Sennott said. The cause remains under investigation by the company.
While it was the first time the company saw one of its turbines fall over, collapses of the structures are not unprecedented.
In March, another General Electric turbine split in half at the Noble Altona Windpark, northwest of Plattsburgh in Northern New York. That incident also followed a power outage.
Noble Environmental Power, the company operating the turbine, declared a wiring anomaly was to blame for the incident. General Electric wind turbines are equipped with a system that should shut them down when a loss of power occurs. Without the system working property, the turbine will spin faster than its design allows, the company said in a news release.
However, the collapse at Noble Altona Windpark remains under investigation by the state Public Service Commission because the operation produces enough energy to fall under that agency’s jurisdiction, said Anne Dalton, a spokesperson for the state commission.
“As I understand it, this one owned by Enel North America would be investigated locally,” Dalton said. “All I know is it’s not subject to our jurisdiction.”
The collapse that occurred in Altona on March 6 created a small fire and flung Fiberglass debris as far as 345 feet from the base of the turbine, the company said. No one was injured in the incident.
But Milissa Rocker, a spokesperson for General Electric, said the company’s windmills are safe. Just five of General Electric’s 13,000 turbines operating globally have collapsed since 2002 when General Electric took over the wind power operation from Enron, she said.
“It’s important to understand this is a very rare occurrence,” Rocker said. “This turbine is one of the most reliable in service.”
Despite the apparent resemblance between the incidents in Altona and Fenner, officials from both General Electric and Enel North America said there is no way to draw a parallel until an investigation is complete.
“What’s similar is that a turbine collapsed,” Rocker said. “That’s about as far as the similarities go right now.”
Wind turbines are an increasingly common part of the regional landscape, particularly along U.S. Route 20 and near Lowville.
There are no wind farms in Oneida or Herkimer counties, but three projects are pending in Herkimer County, according to data from New York Independent System Operator, a nonprofit organization that operates New York’s electrical grid. One plan for the Herkimer County town of Litchfield has raised the ire of residents near Sauquoit in Oneida County; they say turbines would mar the landscape and pose possible risks to home values and health.
Members of Save Sauquoit Valley Views — a group opposing the Litchfield windmills – said theFenner tower collapse sparks concern over the Litchfield project.
“Despite the industry’s assurances, large turbines are intrinsically unsafe,” Liz Waszkiewicz said in a statement e-mailed on behalf of the organization. “Since the Fenner incident wasn’t related to high winds or other conditions that should have led to collapse, should a landowner take that chance?”
Sennot said the company does not believe strong winds or foul play were involved in the incident, but declined to discuss other possible causes until an investigation is complete, which likely won’t be until the end of January.
“Generally speaking, turbines are a far enough distance away that — should something like this happen — homes wouldn’t be hit,” Sennott said. The company is not concerned about additional turbines collapsing, he said.
The other 19 turbines at Fenner Wind Farm, which produces enough electricity to serve at least 10,000 homes, have been temporarily shut down as a safety precaution, he said.