Main tower snapped in two after being pounded by strong southeast winds
SYDNEY, N.S. — The province’s energy minister says setback regulations are in place to protect the public and neighbouring landowners should wind turbines fall, as has happened twice in Cape Breton in the past five months.
Michel Samson was responding to the collapse Wednesday of a 15-year-old wind turbine in Grand Etang. That came less than six months after another collapse of much newer turbine of a different design also located in Cape Breton, in Point Tupper.
At the time of the Point Tupper collapse, the Canadian Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, issued a statement saying it was not aware of a similar failure among the more than 6,000 wind turbines in Canada.
In the Grand Etang incident, the main tower snapped in two after being pounded by strong southeast winds, known as les suêtes, that hammer the Cheticamp area with gusts of up to 200 km/h.
“We’re looking forward to seeing the results of what exactly happened,” Samson said in a post-cabinet scrum and conference call with reporters Thursday. “The most recent one in (Grand Etang), which I think most people would recognize is probably one of the windiest areas in the province.”
Point Tupper falls within Samson’s riding of Richmond. Both the province and municipalities through legislation have control to regulate wind turbines. There are setback requirements for the turbines from residential areas that are in excess of the length or height of the structures.
“Whenever they’re sited to start off with there are very specific setback rules to ensure that there is safety for the public and safety for landowners or residents in the nearby area,” Samson said. “I think that’s why those setbacks are in place to start off with.
“At this point there is no indication that there should be any concern by the public due to the distance that these turbines are in place compared to residential areas.”
In an email, Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Bev Ware said the utility had a team on site Thursday as part of the investigation into what caused the failure. NSPI owns and operates the Grand Etang turbine, which was one of the first two wind power developments in the province.
“We are carrying out the Grand Etang investigation with (manufacturer) Vestas and we'll investigate this incident thoroughly to ensure we find out exactly what happened,” Ware wrote.
Ware noted the Point Tupper turbine was made by a different company and is newer, an Enercon model manufactured in 2010.
She referred any comment in the status of that investigation to the wind farm’s majority owner Renewable Energy Services Ltd., and the operator, Enercon, as they carried out that probe.
The 50-metre turbine that toppled over in Wednesday’s high winds in Grand Etang is the only turbine of its model operating in the province.
“We are looking forward to the results of the investigation as to what exactly went wrong and more importantly how we make sure that this doesn’t happen in the future,” Samson said.
He added said the department has not yet received a final report on the Point Tupper collapse.
“I think we all know that in Cheticamp on that day the wind gusts were quite significant, It was not normal weather, so obviously there was a very unique weather pattern that was taking place that day, but again that turbine has been able to sustain other storms since 2002 so we’re very curious to see exactly what it is that took place that might have caused damage to that specific turbine,” Samson said.
He noted the area’s unique wind patterns are what attracted one of the first wind establishments in the province.
“There are advantages to having areas with high winds but obviously there are concerns that come with that as well,” Samson said.
Enercon Canada, a subsidiary of Enercon GmbH in Germany, said in a statement at the time of the Point Tupper collapse that it has installed almost 1,000 wind turbines in seven provinces in the past 15 years, and it was the first time one of them had collapsed. The 10 other E-82 turbines at the Point Tupper site were not affected.
No one was working at the Grand Etang site when the collapse of the Danish-built Vestas 660-kW turbine occurred.
There are about 220 wind turbines at 30 locations across the province. Wind represents about 14 per cent of the electricity on the Nova Scotia energy grid.
In the Point Tupper incident, workers were told to leave the tower before it buckled and fell. Enercon crews at the time were in the process of replacing a component as part of regular maintenance at the wind farm at the time. They were evacuated and no one was injured.