Safety issues discussed at Tribunal

by Harvey Wrightman

Wm.K.G. (Bill) Palmer, P.Eng , whose specialty was safety and risk management for Ontario Hydro, said this about safety and the wind industry,

“A problem that exists is that unlike mature technologies where failure events are carefully documented, studied and shared so that the entire industry can learn from failures, the wind industry tends to be competitive, and focused on confidentiality. Wide reporting of failures has an adverse impact on investor confidence. Further, an adversarial relationship with the public developed early on… failures are not well communicated to the public… there is no publicly available database of wind turbine failures maintained by the industry …”

I attended the March 2 ERT session in Toronto. I can’t write about Bill Palmer’s testimony as his status as an expert witness is still in limbo – a bit odd, as watching him expound on 2 very arcane subjects, wind turbine noise and safety issues, I was left with the impression that Bill is more than an expert – he insists that it is his duty to explain technical matters in a way that all can understand. The cross-examinations by Mr.Engel and Ms Huckins were both rather abruptly ended when they posed questions that highlighted the inconsistencies of their own arguments – many times in this case I have watched the lawyers choke while chewing.

The afternoon session can only be described as surreal. The witness was Pierre Heraud, a physicist who works for GL Garrad Hassan (GL GH), a conglomerate which is the world’s largest, independent renewable consultant. The GL part stands for Germanischer Lloyd which is a classification society formed originally for the German ship-building industry, now very heavily involved with the German banking, insurance and wind industry. GL does a great many of the engineering certifications both for the manufacturers and for the constructors. Draw your own conclusions.

Now the weird part, Dr. Heraud, a physicist, had written the GL GH “Ice Throw Risk Assessment” for Kent Breeze. Bill’s submission contained 7 comments on that risk assessment. He found numerous errors, some of large significance. The worst was a gross under-estimation of the risk area – essentially by a factor of ~ 100,000 – not exactly minor. The result was that for ~ 20 minutes at least, Mr.Engel, with his hands sweat-glued to the table, and his shoulder pads enshrouding his ears, went through a mind-numbing, page-turning exercise “making changes” to the document. Most of the gallery was bewildered (I had read Bill’s submission prior, so had an idea of what they were doing). And Dr.Pierre Heraud, kept smirking away and answering “yes” or “no” as he felt necessary. It was beyond absurd.

Dr.Heraud also showed a cavalier attitude about safety. When asked about persons getting too close to turbines (trespassing for instance), he said, “ They should not be at the wind turbine zones.” Presumably that would also apply to the school bus that goes down a road past a turbine within the legal distance of 60m (blade length + 10m).

When all the questioning was done, Dr.Heraud maintained that there would be no safety problems with the installation – of course, he is not an engineer, and someone else in the company signed off on the risk assessment – but its his “work” really, flaws and all.

Mr.Gillespie had only a couple of questions for him. One was re: the reporting of turbine accidents. Dr.Heraud confirmed that there is no mandatory system such as exists for the aircraft industry. For the wind industry it’s “shoot, shovel, shut-up.”

Ontario has ~ 700 wind turbines in operation. At this time, this is what we know about the “very robust review process” of the MOE:

1) the MOE does not have a protocol for measuring wind turbine noise in the field. An officer comes to a site, “cocks his/her ear”, and records his/her notions.

2) the MOE does not apply the 5 dBA penalty of NPC-204, specified for “cyclic noise or other amplitude modulation”; and, as Rick James stated in his testimony (unchallenged) to the ERT, the blade “swish” noise that is 1 – 3 dBA in daytime can grow to a pronounced “thump” of 5 – 13 dBA under conditions of high wind shear ( almost always at night). Night time wind shear throughout Southern Ontario is typically high ( 0.40). High wind shear is responsible for ~ 25% of the power output of wind turbines. Shut-down of wind turbines during high wind shear events would severely affect the economics of the industry – no wonder that neither the industry nor the govt. will admit the reality of the situation.

3) noise assessments in Ontario can be created by anyone who can fill in the blanks on the forms. There is no certifying body or process for an “acoustical consultant.” Each one is assessed on submission essentially – “Acoustical Consultant” means a person currently active in the field of environmental acoustics and noise/vibration control, who is familiar with Ministry noise guidelines and procedures and has a combination of formal university education, training and experience necessary to assess noise emissions from a Facility – as communicated to me by Michael Duong, P.Eng. Senior Review Engineer – Noise, Ministry of Environment

4) the MOE, in the case of Kent Breeze, accepted a very flawed “Ice Throw Risk Assessment.” – the MOE’s senior engineer, John Kowalewski and his Director, Dr. Mansur Mahmood, missed serious errors with the safety assessment, despite 2 months of intense review.

The wind industry has a chosen to withhold information about safety and noise that it should openly discuss and address. It often uses “unlicensed” personnel in the design of the operations. This all leads to an inconsistency in design and construction standards. Consequently, the industry has a higher “blades on the ground” failure rate – about 4x the world average. With this reckless attitude towards safety, the wind industry has chosen to poison the waters of public sentiment. The MOE with a simple wave of the ministerial hand, bestows approvals without adequate review – you, Dr. Mansur Mahmood – your signature is on the certificate. You made the guarantee.

Harvey Wrightman

12 thoughts on “Safety issues discussed at Tribunal

  1. Thanks to Harvey Wightman for these excellent updates on the Tribunal. More people need to be aware of the information coming out of it. We haven’t heard near enough so far.
    And thanks as well to Bill Palmer for the time and expertise he continues to dedicated to this issue.

  2. Thanks for keeping us updated, Harvey, and all others who attend the hearings.

  3. “the reporting of turbine accidents. Dr.Heraud confirmed that there is no mandatory system such as exists for the aircraft industry. For the wind industry it’s “shoot, shovel, shut-up.”
    Wow, this must be the only industrial operation that doesn’t need to report accidents! This should be public information.

  4. I wonder if this….

    …the MOE’s senior engineer, John Kowalewski and his Director, Dr. Mansur Mahmood, missed serious errors with the safety assessment, despite 2 months of intense review.

    …might have been sarcasm… Naw…!

    Harvey Wrightman is such a gentle soul — I am sure it is just the facts…

  5. So we have Doctors playing engineer, engineers giving medical opinions and a Physicist providing risk and safety assessments to the financiers and wind companies.

    I don’t see a problem. Do you see a problem?

    Maybe you’re too picky!

    Now having had my fun with this — yes it is possible to work cross-discipline — I do that and don’t talk much about it because of the legal issues. But for certification? You at least have to have someone qualified to “rubber-stamp” the work. At least if you want the certificates and approvals — usually. We have someone with an M.Sc. P.Eng. who can sign off on anything like that, where the certification might be questionable — but they review the work in nit-picking detail. Anything questionable is reviewed, rechecked altered redesigned re-approved or re-documented — whatever it takes to get it right — and get the environmental and safety approvals. Not just for the stamp — but out of genuine concern for safety and worker confidence in the project.

    I don’t see that here.

    In other words you need a Qualified Person (QP in the slang) to sign the reports and requests for approval or certification. That’s how it works (or at least should) for public companies where environmental issues and safety are a concern…

    When this all settles out expect some pretty serious legislation when a few more accidents and problems occur.

    To a nuclear engineer — to whom safety is paramount — this must seem horrifying.

  6. Those are my sentiments precisely, David – not to tar everyone with the same brush as there have a few notable exceptions of professionals taking their sense of duty to society seriously; but, it’s difficult to remain civil when one sees such gross neglect on the part of the professional and administrative classes re: wind turbines.
    I strongly suspect that the manufacturer certification process is flawed. It is very instructive to compare the SPL numbers of different machines. For instance, how is it that a GE 2.5 MW comes in at barely 1 dBA over a GE 1.5 MW machine? They are using 100m rotor diamters vs. 80m. The swept area is 56% greater, yet the noise level barely budges.
    The physicist Dr. Heraud also claimed that the bearing load with the larger blades was reduced – I don’t think I could use that argument on any mechanic. He also claimed that the sample of blade failures (4) in Ontario is too low for predictive purposes. He opined it should be ~ 20. Do nothing until then? As Bill pointed out, it is common practice in risk analysis to to use a technique such as a “Chi-Squared” evaluation, from which a more accurate assessment can be made.
    Dr. Heraud formerly worked for Helimax before it was absorbed by GL GH. Certainly, this risk assessment for Kent Breeze had a lot of errors.
    GL GH must have its reasons for leaving Dr.Heraud in the “colonies” rather than bringing him back to Europe. It would be easier to offer him tutoring in Europe.

  7. “To a nuclear engineer — to whom safety is paramount — this must seem horrifying.”
    Most say they’d rather live beside a nuclear facility than an Industrial Wind Turbine.
    It might as well be Dalton McGuinty putting these things up himself. He’s slapping them up, rubber stamping and patting himself on the back.

  8. The good doctor could be right on that point…

    Another disadvantage of the chi-square test is that it requires a sufficient sample size in order for the chi-square approximation to be valid.

    http://itl.nist.gov/div898/handbook/eda/section3/eda35f.htm

    But we both know that depends on how you set up your testing and sampling regime and whether you draw from the entire population or a geographic sample etc…

    I will accept that Bill studied the data and was likely sure of his statement. So until Steve McIntyre or his clone argues Bill down… 😉

    It is curious that the point came up. Physicists are used to dealing with Six Sigma events/evaluations etc. If they work in particle physics the became used to working to that degree of accuracy. Anyway — it is an esoteric set of points and should be argued elsewhere… Google Six Sigma for the recent meanings of the word…

  9. …Mr.Engel, after leading his witness/pupil, Dr.Heraud, through all the corrections to his paper (Ice Throw Risk Assessment) asked Dr.Heraud what was his opinion of Mr.Palmer’s 7 critical comments (re: the inaccuracies in Dr.Heraud’s risk assessment).
    Dr. Heraud paused for a moment, and with a slight smile on his face said, “…Mr.Palmer was not incorrect.”
    That was the summation of Dr.Heraud’s testimony by Dr.Heraud to his own attorney. And so ended the March 2 session of the ERT hearing into the appeal of the Kent Breeze wind project. I thought I was in a dream world.

  10. Accidents… Rugby, North Dakota a wind turbine hub with all 3 blades attached fell from a 407 ft. tall wind turbine. It had been in operation only since October 2010. (Reported in Grand Forks Herald March 17, 2011.) “According to Suzlon’s website these wind turbines were designed for medium wind speeds and to withstand extreme conditions.” Right!
    Go on Youtube to search “wind turbine accidents” OR “wind turbine fires”. There you will find many accidents documented.
    Also, every bird and bat death in a wind farm is another accident.

  11. Maybe we should adapt these rules to our use… what’s good for the goose and all that…

    Here are five basic rules of propaganda, courtesy of Norman Davies in his extraordinary book “Europe: A History”:

    * The rule of simplification: reducing all data to a simple confrontation between ‘Good and Bad’, ‘Friend and Foe’.

    * The rule of disfiguration: discrediting the opposition by crude smears and parodies.

    * The rule of transfusion: manipulating the consensus values of the target audience for one’s own ends.

    * The rule of unanimity: presenting one’s viewpoint as if it were the unanimous opinion of all right-thinking people: draining the doubting individual into agreement by the appeal of star-performers, by social pressure, and by ‘psychological contagion’.

    * The rule of orchestration: endlessly repeating the same messages in different variations and combinations.

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