Transformer Blast: DEC says tests show just one residential water supply affected by spill at wind farm
A mineral oil spill caused by an Independence Day transformer explosion at the Maple Ridge Wind Farm has apparently contaminated a residential well.
However, it doesn’t appear to have affected neighboring wells according to state Department of Environmental Conservation officials.
The July 4 explosion at the wind farm substation up the hill from the hamlet on Rector Road – which caused a temporary shutdown of the facility – led to 491 gallons of oil leaking from the damaged transformer said DEC spokesman Steven W. Litwhiler.
“They reported the spill and they were quick-acting at commencing the cleanup” Mr. Litwhiler said.
However, a West Martinsburg resident in late November reported the presence of oil in his well water and tests ultimately determined that contaminant had the characteristics of oil used in the electrical transformers, he said. Wind farm officials have been notified of the findings which suggest the contaminants are remnants of the July 4 spill.
Neighboring wells were also tested for contaminants, with negative results, Mr. Litwhiler said.
We tested about 15 different homeowners’ wells in the area,” he said. “That was the only one that had a confirmed presence of oil.
Future testing is planned, he said.
DEC provided all residents with bottled water until confirming their wells were not contaminated, Mr. Litwhiler said. Agency officials are also working with the state Department of Health to determine potential long-term solutions like installation of a filtering system for the affected home he said.
DEC has taken no action against the wind farm, but the file on the spill hasn’t yet been closed. Wind farm officials have been cooperating thus far, Mr. Litwhiler said.
Tod W. Nash, the wind farm’s operations manager was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.
Wind farm officials were planning soon to change the transformer that malfunctioned and had a replacement part on hand, PPM Atlantic Renewable’s William M. Moore who developed the 195-turbine wind farm in the towns of Martinsburg and Lowville said in July.
The transformers’ insulation system consists of insulating oil and cellulous materials and that mixture generates small amounts of combustible and non-combustible gases under normal use, Mr. Nash said last month in an e-mail.
According to Mr. Nash, wind farm officials – as part of their routine maintenance schedule – in August and September took oil samples from randomly selected transformers and found that some had higher-than-normal levels of gases and subsequently tested the rest of them. Less than one-third were identified as having above-normal levels.
While the July 4 explosion was caused by equipment failure, not gas build-up, wind farm officials still decided to implement a 17-day around-the-clock “de-gassing effort” to avoid any potential incidents, Mr. Nash said. Two tractor trailers were used to filter gases from oil in the targeted transformers.
Wind farm staff are “working with the transformer manufacturer and several consultants specializing in transformer construction testing and operation to determine the cause of the gases being generated,” Mr. Nash wrote. “Based on their results, all transformers are tested rather than portion to provide the earliest possible detection of any abnormal condition.”