Washer sus­pected to have caused tur­bine col­lapse

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY NANCY KING

It was sus­pected that a washer was for­got­ten in­side the hub of a wind tur­bine un­der re­pair that sub­se­quently col­lapsed hours later, labour depart­ment doc­u­ments show.

E-mails be­tween the in­ves­ti­gat­ing body, the Depart­ment of Labour and Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion, and tur­bine man­u­fac­turer En­er­con were re­cently dis­closed by the depart­ment.

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.

In Jan­uary, the Cape Bre­ton Post made a re­quest un­der Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion for the labour depart­ment’s re­port on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the col­lapse, af­ter another un­re­lated col­lapse oc­curred at a tur­bine in Grand Etang, In­ver­ness Co.

The Point Tupper wind farm has an 80-me­tre En­er­con tur­bine model man­u­fac­tured in 2010.

In one of the emails, a man­ag­ing di­rec­tor with En­er­con whose name is redacted states that on Aug. 16 a dam­aged hub was re­moved and placed on the ground at the foot of the tur­bine. The blades were re­moved and in­stalled on a new hub. It states that “tech­ni­cal chal­lenges were en­coun­tered but were over­come upon con­sult­ing tech­ni­cal sup­port.” The hub was then lifted and at­tached and the blades were pitched out of wind.

The next day the tur­bine was be­ing as­sessed and the blades were left pitched into the wind. When the ro­tor was un­locked, a noise, sus­pected to be a for­got­ten washer in the hub, was heard. An En­er­con technician opened the hatch to look for it, not­ing that the blades were pitched in and with­out hav­ing a brake ap­plied, and told work­ers to climb down and go to another work site.

“Emer­gency re­sponse fol­lowed En­er­con pro­ce­dures as tower was evac­u­ated as soon as sit­u­a­tion be­came dan­ger­ous,” the email reads. “The site was cleared soon af­ter work­ers evac­u­ated the tower and ev­ery per­son­nel re­mained out of the dan­ger zone, which is de­fined as the area around the tower that is equal to half the ro­tor di­am­e­ter.”

Four hours af­ter the evac­u­a­tion, the tower col­lapsed.

Ini­tially, when The Post re­quested the Depart­ment of Labour and Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion’s re­port on its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the col­lapse, it was told the in­ves­tiga­tive file con­tained more than 1,200 pages of doc­u­ments that would re­quire 60 hours to process and would cost a to­tal of $1,890 to ob­tain.

A mod­i­fied re­quest for the fi­nal re­port of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was ul­ti­mately pro­cessed.

The file also shows that a stop-work or­der re­lated to the de­mo­li­tion and re­moval of the col­lapsed tur­bine was is­sued to En­er­con on Oct. 21. It in­di­cated the com­pany con­tra­vened the Oc­cu­pa­tional Health and Safety Act, say­ing it needed to ob­tain a writ­ten re­port of an as­sess­ment by an in­de­pen­dent pro­fes­sional engi­neer with work­ing knowl­edge of wind load­ing, struc­tural tow­ers and sup­ports and tur­bine me­chan­i­cal op­er­a­tion. The com­pany was given a dead­line of Nov. 21 to comply with the or­der.

It was also or­dered to take other steps in­clud­ing pro­vid­ing names and con­tact in­for­ma­tion for all em­ploy­ees in­volved in the hub ex­change, their jobs ti­tles and tasks, their state­ments, a chrono­log­i­cal writ­ten de­scrip­tion of what was done to the tur­bine and its com­po­nents af­ter re­ceiv­ing the er­ror code mes­sage for the bear­ing fail­ure in March 2016 lead­ing up to the col­lapse.

The last re­main­ing piece of doc­u­men­ta­tion was re­ceived by the depart­ment on Dec. 16 and the stop-work or­der was lifted.

In Jan­uary, an of­fi­cial with En­er­con told The Post its in­ves­ti­ga­tion found noth­ing to in­di­cate it was due to an equip­ment de­sign or a tech­ni­cal is­sue but wouldn’t say what the fac­tors be­hind the fail­ure were.

The Point Tupper wind farm has an 80-me­tre EN­ER­CON tur­bine model man­u­fac­tured in 2010.

The com­pany’s busi­ness devel­op­ment man­ager told The Post it was “con­fi­dent that we have iden­ti­fied the con­tribut­ing fac­tors and the con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and at this point in time we are in the process of im­ple­ment­ing them.”

De­spite be­ing asked sev­eral times to spec­ify what the “com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors” lead­ing to the col­lapse were, she de­clined to elab­o­rate.

En­er­con 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.

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.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, in Jan­uary another tur­bine in Cape Bre­ton failed. In that in­ci­dent in Grand Etang, 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. That tur­bine was man­u­fac­tured by another com­pany than those at the Point Tupper wind farm and that tur­bine had been in ser­vice since 2002.

NSPI is a mi­nor­ity part­ner in the Point Tupper wind farm with ma­jor­ity owner Re­new­able En­ergy Ser­vices Ltd.

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