Green Watch

Wind Turbines Produce Drama, Cash, and Some Electricity: “Unexpected”

Danish Wind Turbines Produce Drama, Climate-Left Cash . . . and Some Electricity (full series)
Big Trouble at Biglow Canyon | “Unexpected”
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“Unexpected . . . Failure Rates”

But Biglow Canyon is far from the only place where Vestas turbines have been behaving badly according to the media. There were at least a half dozen additional incidents in the 20 months after the flying blade failure in Oregon.

In June 2022, an entire tower with a Vestas turbine fell over at an Australian facility run by the Iberdrola energy firm. “The failure of turbine 43 at Alinta Wind Farm is a serious event,” said the Iberdrola’s Australia CEO. “We are currently working closely with regulatory bodies and the operations and maintenance contractor, Vestas, to understand the factors that have contributed to the failure of the turbine.”

A fire broke out at a Vestas turbine in Germany in December 2022, according to ReNews.Biz.

And in October 2022, a turbine owned by Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy caught on fire in Iowa. According to ReNews.Biz, the Vestas turbines at the facility had “began operating in 2020.”

“An incident such as this is an extremely rare occurrence—throughout our fleet we have experienced only one other fire of this magnitude in the nearly 20 years since we began operating our first wind farm,” said a MidAmerican official.

He soon learned the wind turbine gods can be as capricious as the wind itself. Almost precisely a year later, in October 2023, another Vestas turbine at a different MidAmerican facility in Iowa reportedly caught fire.

“Local fire brigades from Adair and surrounding towns responded but could do little as they lacked equipment to reach the nacelle,” reported ReCharge. “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.”

Local TV news caught a dramatic video of a flaming blade crashing to the ground. “An incident such as this is an extremely rare occurrence,” the MidAmerican official reportedly said once again.

According to other media accounts, 2023 had already been a thrilling year for Vestas turbines.

In February 2023, ReNews.Biz reported a fire at a Vestas machine in Denmark, its home nation. The report did not quote anyone claiming the fire was a “rare occurrence.”

Good thing, because in August 2023, EnergyVoice reported an offshore Vestas turbine had caught fire just off the coast of Norfolk in the United Kingdom. A BBC account featured several dramatic photos of the destroyed machine billowing black smoke that could be easily seen from the coastline.

By July 2023 ReNew Economy was reporting maintenance troubles for Vestas:

Vestas has added €210 million in warranty provisions for repairs in the December quarter, as rising call outs and higher upgrade costs bite at the Danish company, too. Vestas also said its lost production factor is rising towards 4 per cent due to the number of “extraordinary” repairs and upgrades.

By then all of the big turbine makers were having troubles, according to ReNew Economy:

Unexpected and increasing wind turbine failure rates, largely in newer and bigger models, are savaging the profits of some of the world’s biggest manufacturers, as Siemens Gamesa, GE and Vestas report heavy repair and maintenance losses.

In its Biglow Canyon investigation, The Oregonian correctly observed that “there is no effective national, state or county reporting requirement or database tracking safety or operational incidents at wind farms.” The newspaper also reported that Portland General Electric had claimed the “issues at Biglow Canyon” were “consistent with those experienced by other utilities with similarly aged equipment.”

It is difficult and perhaps impossible for an outside party to objectively evaluate whether the problems for Vestas have been typically awful for the industry, or extraordinarily awful. In the absence of any substantive recordkeeping or obligation on the part of the turbine makers to publicly report their major malfunctions, we must rely on the accuracy of media accounts.

Even if accurately reported, such accounts often fail to mention critical details such as who manufactured the equipment. And there are likely major malfunctions that have gone unreported, particularly in lower-income nations with comparatively less robust media coverage.

Even with these caveats, Vestas wind turbines have been appearing in unpleasant media accounts for more than a decade.

In the next installment, Vestas characterizes the wind turbine failures as “extraordinarily rare.”

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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