A wind turbine springs oil leak

The Caledonian-Record|Amy Ash Nixon|September 27, 2011
VermontSafetyStructural Failure

Rob Pforzheimer, a Sutton resident and longtime First Wind critic, said, "This is the second haz mat spill [TNT truck in December] on this project and it hasn't even started producing anything yet. There will undoubtedly be more spills in the future.

SHEFFIELD -- A turbine at the First Wind renewable energy wind farm on Saturday had an oil leak in a gear in the top of the windmill.

Clean-up efforts to reclaim about 40 gallons of oil were continuing Monday, Sheffield-Wheelock Fire Chief Marc Brown said. The incident was reported Saturday afternoon and volunteers were at the site for about four hours, he said.

"Something happened in one of the gear boxes in one turbine and approximately 70 gallons was spilled, and most of it, actually, was contained within the turbine itself," Brown said. About 40 gallons leaked.

He said there was almost no wind to cause the oil to spread farther, and that it was contained on the ground in rocks around the base of the turbine in the immediate area surrounding the turbine. He said Dana Calkins was called over the weekend to help with clean-up and was continuing to remove any possible traces of contaminant from the incident.

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources was contacted and has been in touch with Brown as has First Wind representatives, Brown said.

First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne on Monday said, "We learned on Saturday that oil leaked from a gear box at one of our turbines at our Sheffield Wind project," said Lamontagne. "Our contractor, RMT, reported the incident immediately to state and local authorities, as required. RMT has been in frequent communication with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to inform them of the status. Turbines are currently being commissioned. The turbine that experienced the leak has not been commissioned yet. We expect the project to be fully commissioned in the coming months.

Chuck Schwer, a member of the Vermont Hazardous Materials Response Team, said, "It first came in and they thought it was 180 gallons that spilled. However, people have been able to get up into the turbine and assess it, and it's looking like a 55 to 60 gallon spill. Once the guys got up there the guys said there was still a lot of oil left in the reservoir, and then talking to the people from the company itself, they satisfied me that it was less."

Schwer said because it happened up high, it did spray about 200 yards, but that was minimal. The worst of it was in the gravel drive around the turbine, he said. "They have really made sure they have tracked it down and gotten all of it."

"I haven't been there, so I'm going on what I've heard, that it ran down the side of the turbine," Schwer said. "So really what got into the environment is even less. It's a heavier oil, so it doesn't soak into the ground as quickly or travel as far, and it makes clean-up a bit easier to do. So that's a good thing. It had something to do with the amount of wind."

He said First Wind will follow up with a report, including photos as part of the reporting requirements.

"I'm more than pleased with the effort they are putting in. They realize they had this release and they want to go the extra mile to get it cleaned up," said Schwer.

"They dug it all up and took it away," Brown said. He also said no vegetation came in contact with the oil nor did any water sources.

"Nothing got to the water," said Brown. "There were no waterways that were affected. The guys did a really good job."

Brown said the emergency action plan tried and tested many times at the wind farm by the members of the Sheffield-Wheelock Fire Department worked very well.

"It was a very small area, 100 x 100 foot area, the gravel space around the turbine," said Brown. "There was very little wind and absolutely no precipitation. It's all been cleaned up. We still have Dana Calkins up there and he's putting material back in just in case people see him or hear of anything.

"They're going over and beyond what the state wants. I just got off the phone with the emergency management people and they are happy right now," said Brown. "What they [First Wind] are doing, is above and beyond what the state requirement is. It's like dropping something on the floor and getting down and scrubbing it."

Rob Pforzheimer, a Sutton resident and longtime First Wind critic, said, "This is the second haz mat spill [TNT truck in December] on this project and it hasn't even started producing anything yet. There will undoubtedly be more spills in the future because the Clipper turbines are junk. Some of the turbines in Sheffield are rebuilt failed turbines from Cohocton, New York. I guess in the rush for subsidies, First Wind is being careless."

First Wind's Lamontagne said, "The Clipper turbines are not 'rebuilt turbines from Cohocton, New York.' They have never been used before. They are similar to the Cohocton turbines in that they are 2.5 MW each."


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