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Wind Turbine Owned by Apex Clean Energy Catches Fire in Texas

On March 8th, a wind turbine owned by Apex Clean Energy caught fire in South Texas. Many people don’t realize this, but wind turbines require oil to operate. Oil, which is often demonized by wind-energy advocates, is used to reduce friction in the wind turbine. It also keeps the gearbox clean and protects metals surfaces from corrosion, according to Wind Power Engineering. Oil is also flammable.

According to an article in a South Texas newspaper:

It was a normal lazy Sunday before area fire crews got a call that a wind turbine was on fire on County Road 3683, in between Taft and Portland. Needless to say, this was the first call of this kind that any of the county fire stations had received since the wind turbines started sprouting like weeds a few years ago.

“I could smell an electrical type smell for a good while, and my mom smelled it too,” Gregory resident Dolores Moreno said. “I was looking at our own house going room to room thinking it was coming from our home since the smell was pretty strong. A while later I heard the sirens so I knew it wasn’t us.

When Portland and Taft fire crews arrived, there wasn’t much to do but get out of the way and watch from a distance. Their hoses couldn’t reach the blaze, and even if they could, it would be very dangerous if those blades fall off while the turbine was in motion.

“It shouldn’t happen; they have safety features built into them that locks the blades down,” Taft Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dan Gibson said. “They were locked down until the fire burnt all the hydraulic oil out of it.

“And I don’t know what they’re going to do. They had their people down there after a while, and they looked at it, but they didn’t want to get around it either.”

It doesn’t appear that there is much reliable data on wind turbine fires, but the data that I have seen suggests that wind turbine fires are infrequent, with the main causes of fire being lightning strike, electrical malfunction, mechanical failure, or maintenance activities. These are major causes for other structures catching fire, too, so it shouldn’t be surprising that wind turbines are not immune from some of the same problems.

In the end it is important to remember that all forms of energy have some environmental impacts, and no source of energy is totally free of risk.

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