Green Watch

Wind Power Doesn’t Make Sense: “An Extremely Rare Occurrence”

Wind Power Doesn’t Make Sense Without the Tax Credits (full series)
Berkshire Hathaway | “An Extremely Rare Occurrence”
Anti-Environment Environmentalism

“An Extremely Rare Occurrence . . .”

In October 2022, a wind turbine motor made by Vestas caught fire at MidAmerican’s Diamond Trail Wind Farm in Iowa. Dramatic photos of the blaze taken by the local fire department showed flames showering into the night sky off the tall tower.

“Firefighters arrived on scene at 12:56AM and observed the head of the turbine fully engulfed in flames,” reported the Williamsburg Fire Department’s Facebook page. “This type of fire is unique and challenging, as there are many factors to consider including falling debris on fire and the turbine blades and unit falling apart overhead. WFD secured the scene to ensure safety of everyone in the area. Once it was deemed safe, the field fire caused by falling debris was extinguished.”

A spokesman for MidAmerican explained that all this excitement was “an extremely rare occurrence.”

Almost exactly a year later in October 2023, yet another Vestas wind turbine caught fire at MidAmerican’s Arbor Hill Wind Farm in Iowa. Media accounts reported fire crews from multiple communities responded but could not reach the blaze atop the tower and had to let it burn.

“The fire eventually consumed the nacelle and one of the blades, with burning debris falling into surrounding cornfields that sent up plumes of smoke that could be seen for miles,” reported ReCharge News, an online information service for the weather-dependent power industry.

A local television station got a lucky shot of the giant blade falling like a flaming dagger from a 22-story tower belching black smoke.

The same MidAmerican spokesman from the prior year popped back onto the scene to explain that an “incident such as this is an extremely rare occurrence” and note that the “remainder of the wind farm is operating normally.”

In February 2023, at the MidAmerican-owned Lundgren Wind Project in Webster, Iowa, a 174-foot-long blade fell from a 262-foot-tall turbine tower. The intrepid MidAmerican spokesman, at this point only midway on his calendar between the two incidents of flaming debris falling from the Iowa sky, tried to reassure Iowans that there had been “fewer than 10 incidents throughout our fleet of 3,400 wind turbines at 37 sites in 32 counties.”

Four of those incidents took place at MidAmerican’s Iowa wind facilities between October 2019 and October 2020. In each case, media accounts reported that a 170-plus-foot-long blade attached to a Vestas turbine motor snapped in half and flew from the tower.

In the September 2020 incident, the biggest piece of broken blade was flung into a nearby cornfield.

“I work in the field that it came down, and I do have true safety concern,” said an Iowa farmer to a local TV station.

“Out of 3,300 wind turbines, 10,000 blades, it’s a very rare occurrence,” said the MidAmerican spokesman, reading from his cue cards.

But he also veered from the talking points to try and pin the blame for the problem on God or Mother Nature. “I checked on the last two blade failures we had, and they were caused by lightning,” he said.

A month later in October 2020, at another of MidAmerican Energy’s Iowa wind facilities, yet another massive turbine blade snapped in half. The media again parroted the firm’s evergreen “extremely rare” assurance.

At this point MidAmerican enacted a safety shutdown to inspect 46 similar machines. A statement from the firm noted that all of the affected machines had lightning protection gear.

Local Opposition

It’s comparatively boring to live near nuclear, natural gas, or coal-fired power stations that produce as much electricity as MidAmerican Energy’s unintentionally thrilling Iowa wind turbines. Fortunately, no injuries were reported at the seven “rare occurrences” in Iowa between October 2019 and October 2023.

A U.S. Department of Energy webpage makes the following claim: “Turbine failures are considered rare events with fewer than 40 incidents identified in the modern fleet of more than 40,000 turbines installed in the United States as of 2014.”

However true this was prior to 2014, things have become a lot more exciting since then. These supposedly “rare events” are not a MidAmerican problem, nor isolated to Iowa, but instead a problem with industrial wind turbines generally.

A previous report for Capital Research Center featured fires, tower collapses, and other failures of turbines owned by NextEra Energy. As with MidAmerican Energy, NextEra also responded with comically redundant excuses:

  • “We believe this was an isolated incident” (turbine fire in March 2023),
  • “We believe this was an isolated incident as turbine malfunctions are rare” (tower collapse in January 2023),
  • “it is a rare occurrence for this to happen” (tower collapse in June 2022),
  • “Turbine fires are rare” (December 2020),
  • “exceedingly rare” (an Iowa fire in June 2017);
  • “very rare” (a Nebraska tower collapse, also in June 2017);
  • “He says such breaks are rare” (blade break in Michigan, yet again in June 2017).

Wind turbines have become unpopular for other reasons.

In July 2022, MidAmerican announced it was giving up on a plan to add 30 additional turbines to its Arbor Hill Wind Farm (which later became the scene of the October 2023 turbine fire referenced above). Robert Bryce reported the cancellation was the culmination of a multi-year “scorched-earth” court battle MidAmerican Energy had launched against local opponents and local governments.

“The battle between the company and the county began in 2019 after the Madison County Board of Public Health approved a resolution that said there is “potential for negative health effects associated with commercial wind turbines” due to the noise produced by the giant machines,” reported Bryce. “The board also said that the existing setbacks between turbines and residences were “inadequate to protect the public health” and it recommended that all future wind turbines in the county be located 1.5 miles from homes.”

Recounting the incident to Doomberg, Bryce analyzed MidAmerican’s motives:

MidAmerican sued the county to try to force it to accept a wind project the county didn’t want. Why? It stood to lose $81 million in federal tax credits.

MidAmerican’s lawsuit shows yet again, the bare-knuckled legal strategy the wind industry is using against rural Americans as part of its effort to collect billions of dollars in tax credits. For a moment, imagine the media coverage if Exxon, or Chevron, had acted like MidAmerican in Madison County. It would’ve been front-page news in The New York Times. But because the lawsuit involved MidAmerican and the wind industry? Crickets.”

Bryce’s Renewable Rejection Database provides a running tally of local government votes to prohibit or limit weather-dependent power projects. While Iowa contains less than 2 percent of the land area of the continental United States, and less than 1 percent of the nation’s population, it appears to be home to a disproportionate share of the resistance to industrial wind turbines. As of December 2023, Bryce’s database contained 605 entries, 29 directed at industrial wind-energy projects in Iowa.

A MidAmerican Energy webpage claims its “current fleet of 3,400 wind turbines easily co-exist with rich agricultural land and family farms.”

Although MidAmerican Energy’s turbines tower over approximately 1,500 square miles of Iowa, that isn’t the only state where Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s turbines lord over the land and skies. PacificCorp, another BHE subsidiary, operates 14 wind farms covering approximately 330 combined square miles of Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, and Montana.

Compare this to the recently shuttered pair of reactors at the Indian Point nuclear plant near New York City. Sited on just 240 acres, less than half a square mile, the pair of reactors were once able to produce more than double the electricity that all of PacifiCorp’s wind turbines kicked out in 2022.

According to World Population Review, five of the six most populated cities in America (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia) could fit (with dozens of square miles to spare) into the 1,800-plus square miles underneath all of Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s American wind turbines:

A total of more than 18 million people live in those cities.

Using the per person annual rate of American electricity generation of 12.6 MWh in 2022, it took 227 million MWh of power to provide them electricity for a year.

It would require the output of more than seven nuclear stations the size of the giant Palo Verde in Arizona to provide that much annual carbon-free electricity. But the land use of doing so would consume less than 46 square miles. And modern natural gas powerplants, which produce only half the carbon of coal-fired electric plants, use even less land per MWh.

In the next installment, Berkshire Hathaway Energy and others gobble up land and kill eagles to get tax credits.

Ken Braun

Ken Braun is CRC’s senior investigative researcher and authors profiles for and the Capital Research magazine. He previously worked for several free market policy organizations, spent six…
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