Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wind Turbine Response



Creating energy via the use of wind turbines is growing in popularity and application.  The United States is the number one producer of wind energy.  Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas covers nearly 100,000 acres with 620 turnbines, making it the world's largest wind farm. 

A typical wind turbine can be 280 feet high, composed of tubular supporting structure, a nacelle, and rotor blades.  The energy produced at the nacelle is transfered to a transformer on the ground, then out to the grid.  Access to the top (the nacelle area) is via a vertical ladder, with platforms located at various intervals.  These unique structures require a unique fire and emergency response plan.

A key component to an effective emergency response is a healthy, working relationship with the wind farm owners and operators.  The local fire authority should work with these experts at all stages of pre-incident planning, and incorporate them into the emergency response.

There is no standard operating procedure or fire suppression/detection requirements.  NFPA 850: Recommended Practice for Fire Protection for Electric Generating Plants and High Voltage Direct Current Converter Stations, explains the process for creating a fire protection design basis document.  This document outlines the required fire protection features and response, based on the unique facility design, location, and layout.  The local fire authority should be knowledgeable of this document.

Possible wind turbine emergencies include:
  • Fire inside the nacelle or tower
  • Fire within a support structure at the wind farm
  • Structural collapse
  • Separation of a rotor blade from its hub
  • Injury to personnel working on the turbine or at the wind farm
  • Natural disasters
Some things to consider when responding to wind turbine incidents:
  • How did the call come in? (fire alarm, worker in the tower, farm operator)
  • Has the turbine been shut down? Will personnel be available to perform such action? (these wind turbines have rotor brakes, and specific shut-down procedures)
  • Is a safety perimeter established? (recommended 1,600 ft. or more, as rotor blades can fall several hundred yards from the tower)
  • Has a dedicated Safety Officer been designated?
  • Will operator personnel be present throughout the emergency operation? (an operator should always be available)
For more information on wind turbine emergency response read the article, In the Shadow of the Wind, by George Potter, in Industrial Fire Journal.