Wind Farm Rotor Failures

A recent report, The Performance of Wind Farms in the United Kingdom and Denmark, indicated a shorter life for wind turbines than the predicted 20-year life.  See March 5 article, Bad News for Wind Energy.

There is a wind farm in western New York State consisting of 67 turbines that have been in operation for around three years.

Recently there have been several units shut down while 10 blades were repaired. If each came from a different turbine it would mean the wind farm was producing 10% less electricity than planned while the turbines were out of service. It could also support the contention that the life of wind farms will be less than planned.

Wind farm in New York State. 2013
Wind farm in New York State. 2013

 

An engineer who worked with me at General Electric witnessed the repair work and provided pictures and a description of the repairs.

Rotor blade on ground showing manhole cover for entry to blade. 2013
Rotor blade on ground showing manhole cover for entry to blade. 2013

 

When cracks can’t be repaired by using a crane to hoist a repairman to where the damage can be repaired while the blades are attached to the tower, the 120 foot long blade is lowered to the ground.

Crack in rotor blade. 2013
Crack in rotor blade. 2013

 

Cracks like this are ground out. Then fiberglass is laid over the crack, with resin and more fiberglass added until the blade is restored to prescribed dimensions. The repairman then crawls inside the blade, by removing the bolted-on manhole cover, and repeats the process on the blade’s interior.

The process is much like repairing a fiberglass boat.

Crack repair in progress. 2013
Crack repair in progress. 2013

 

This picture provides a perspective on the size of the blade and the extensiveness of the crack.

The underlying issue is whether wind farms will last the predicted 20 years, and whether they will need constant remedial work.

Wind-generated electricity is already very expensive, and could become even more so.

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0 Replies to “Wind Farm Rotor Failures”

  1. I live in Wyoming County not far from the Sheldon wind factory discussed in this article. The sad reality is that the average output of these wind factories is already abysmal, without even considering the component failures already beginning to happen. Here is an article I wrote about the Sheldon project just a few months ago:

    http://www.mywnynews.com/arcade_warsaw/opinion/letters_to_editor/article_d0c4e10c-b9b1-11e2-978e-0019bb2963f4.html

    They’re not “wind farms, they’re “tax farms”

    In the interest of making sure the voting public has all the facts, I am writing in regard to the article in last week’s newspaper, “High Sheldon Wind Farm draws out-of-state visitors.”

    Since Sheldon is a town that did sign on to turn itself into an industrial wind factory, it is not surprising that a Big Wind LLC would pay Sheldon Supervisor John Knab to do a speaking tour to try and sell their product in other areas of the country. No doubt the wind industry has a list of their “go-to” guys that includes all such towns.

    Neither is it surprising that these folks did not visit any of the other numerous towns in the area that decided against turning their towns into a wind factory. They certainly would not want their visitors to get the whole story of what a devastatingly divisive issue this has been in Wyoming County over the past decade. I truly found it quite sad, however, that the article read as a wind industry advertisement might — as if this whole past decade of conflict had never happened.

    The explanation that these folks’ visit was triggered because Sheldon is written up as “one of the most efficient and well-built wind farms the country has,” highlights what a boatload of pure bunk American citizens have been fed when it comes to industrial wind.

    Sheldon’s wind farm again produced a pitiful 25% last year. And that’s the sorry excuse for “the most efficient and well-built wind farm the country has”? Any other piece of equipment, be it a machine, person or animal, that only operates 25% of the time would have been dubbed a “lemon” and put out to pasture a long time ago. Which one of you would buy a vehicle that only operated 25% of the time? You wouldn’t. You couldn’t afford to. It’s just that simple. But when the state and federal government are in charge of spending our money, economic reality doesn’t seem to matter.

    Physicist and Malone Town Board member Jack Sullivan recently reported on the reality of wind’s failure to produce in his article “Some Lessons from New York,” that appeared in the Rutland Herald (www.rutlandherald.com online).

    He explained, “Both Vesta and GE turbines have a manufacturer’s life expectancy rating of 20 years, yet no New York wind project is on track to sell enough electricity in 20 years to pay for itself.”

    Mr. Sullivan used the wind industry’s 20-year life expectancy claim when equating that these giant, property-value-trashing, bird Cuisinarts can never pay for themselves. The inconvenient truth exposed in another report, however, says that, “turbines last only half of what the wind industry originally claimed,” making the fact that they can never pay for themselves even more evident. (www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/9770837).

    These things aren’t “wind farms,” they’re “tax farms” — in the business of harvesting our taxpayer and ratepayer dollars, and transferring them into the pockets of rich, multi-national corporations. All of this enabled because of cronyism in high places, and short-sightedness, willful ignorance, and greed of those willing to suck on the teat of wind welfare at the rest of our expense.

    For the sake of all American taxpayers and ratepayers — and our rural communities and the environment — let’s hope those currently being baited by wind salesmen across the nation are wise enough to know better.

    Mary Kay Barton

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Also See:

    The Department of Energy Spends $11.45 Million Per Job, at:

    http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/2013/05/08/does-11-million-jobs/

    The reality is actually worse than $11.45 M per job created.

    The DOE list includes two nuclear projects worth $10.33B for 1,110 jobs. Since nukes are not considered “green” the correct green numbers are 1,188 jobs at a cost of about $16B or $13.5M per job.

    Assuming that you worked one of these jobs at $50,000 a year, your total earnings after 30 years would be $1,500,000. The other $12,000,000 was a total waste (although it went into somebody’s pocket) and the return on investment of your tax dollars is a minus 89%.

    This administration may be the greatest destroyer of wealth in history.

    • Great article, Mary Kay!! Thanks for your continued dedication to exposing the truth about one of the biggest scams ever -a total misappropriation of taxpayer and ratepayer funds on a global scale.

    • Mary, in a loan guarantee the state does not spend any money except if the company goes bankrupt. Here since those listed have a product, this is much less likely to happen than for Solyndra.
      However they are also tax preferences, money that would have gone in the state pocket and goes in the project instead, therefore forgone revenues that the state will compensate by taxing someone else, as well as grant program that are direct payments.
      According to the page you reference tax preferences at the Treasury level were $13.5 billion in FY 2012, but states frequently have their own program. Also grants to renewable were $5.8 billion in 2012.
      Those are the cost I’d use to calculate the cost per job, and it seems that they would give a similar result.

  2. Donn,

    An interesting article. Do you own the copyright to the images of the blade crack and repair? If you do, we would be grateful for permission to reproduce them on the safety page of our website with a proper credit and link to your site.

    Don

    • Thanks. No, I don’t own the copyright. I was given permission to use the pictures, but that’s the extent of my authority. If you link to the article your viewers could still see the pictures.
      If you want I can ask the person who took the pictures to see whether he would be interested.
      He usually sells his pictures, which are typically about fishing, where he is an expert.

  3. Xcel Energy’s Grand Meadow industrial wind site has experienced numerous problems related to O & M. The utility provider requested an 11% rate hike because production was low and maintenance costs were high. Some citizens from the Goodhue County Coalition for Sensible Siting visited the site and spoke to an O & M supervisor who was in the process of having the gear boxes at 6 turbine locations removed/replaced. He indicated that GE 1.5 and 1.6 turbine gear boxes burn out in about three years, necessitating their replacement. The large crane mentioned in Donn’s article costs $100,000.00 to rent – PER turbine as it must be dismantled, loaded onto 22 flatbed trailers and moved from site to site for reconstruction before it can be used. The crane itself requires cranes to balance it. The gear boxes cost in the neighborhood of $260,000.00 a piece. This means that every three years the owner of the project, in this case a utility, will pay an additional $360,000.00 to keep each turbine operational. A turbine costs approximately $3 million dollars. IF they were to last 20 years the company will pay as much to rebuild them as it cost to purchase them in the first place! I cannot fathom how any thinking person would consider this to be a good investment or wise use of taxpayer money.

    Mary Kay Barton, Thank you for your continued good work related to exposing this sham. It’s brilliant.

    • Mary:
      Thanks for these great comments.
      I’m aware that gear boxes have been an industry wide problem. Not sure they can build gears that will absorb the many different pressures that the blades put on them.

      • Actually, the catastrophic gear box failures appear to be caused primarily by induced mechanical voltage straying through the gearbox, pitting the bearings. This has happened, in some cases, within 18 months.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy news Roundup | Watts Up With That?

  5. Of course, it’s worth noting that the reason wind turbine replacement is sooner than projected is because it’s economically worthwhile to repower with larger, more modern and higher generating units sooner, not because they wear out. And it’s also worthwhile noting the large secondary market for used turbines for smaller wind farms and for parts for existing wind farms.

    This rhetorical trick of putting two unrelated facts side by side and making it seem like an argument is at best poor research and at worst active disinformation.

    As for expensive, the LBNL as well as real world experience world wide and in the USA makes it clear that wind energy is price competitive today with everything except the cheapest of shale gas.

    • Last point first.
      The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has calculated Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) that show wind is more expensive than anything except solar. The EIA added a $15 per ton of CO2 charge to the LCOE calculation for coal which made it appear as though wind was competitive. Remove that $15 charge and coal is much less costly than wind.
      Now with respect to rhetorical tricks.
      The standard sized wind turbine has been a 1.5 MW unit for the past seven years or more.
      The next sized unit, 2.5 MW, of which a few have been installed, mostly in off shore installations, isn’t replacing older units to improve efficiencies.
      On land, the 2.5 MW units have the same capacity factors as the 1.5 MW unit. There is a 5MW unit being developed, but I’m not sure it has actually been put into commercial service.
      The idea that older 1.5 MW units are being replaced by 2.5 MW units to improve efficiency just isn’t so.
      There are always exceptions, and it’s possible that a few older units, that have been scrapped, are a source of spare parts. The scrap business is very profitable. If larger units are replacing older units at all, it’s probably in Europe where wind has been used more extensively because of Europe’s obsession with cutting CO2 emissions.

      • Donn,
        With respect to your nice article and comments here, please note that:
        1. Wind is wind. There must be solutions for using it economically.
        2. The failures you pointed out here are probably due to technical-design-material issues. You know that such cases are not as complicated as design of gas turbines, water turbines, steam turbines and or jet engines. Rotation, speed, temperature and other variables are very complicated, you know all these very well.
        3. The price of power depends on where, how, to what scale and … we generate it.
        4. Wind is workable where other resources are unavailable.
        Regards.

  6. smipp Ltd, , thanks.
    Yes, wind and solar both have applications. Hawaii may be one, where fossil fuels aren’t readily available. Areas off the grid may also be useful applications.
    I just don’t believe they are appropriate for use on the grid in the United States where we have much more efficient resources, such as natural gas.

  7. there are many contributing problems that cause wind farms to under perform, relating that to a scam is a stretch. What is happening, is subsidies are permitting wind energy to develop without impacting their profits directly… because it’s subsidized… subsidization is not a scam, subsidization without checks and balances is poor leadership. There is a lack on ingenuity, creativity, and insight at the macro level. Public perception is the largest negative contributing factor in the entire discussion, because public perception relates to property values, nimby, and trickle down zoning essentially forcing “farms” instead of individuals self-powering their own homes. Thus you are left with this categorical industrial solution with very little creativity, site specificity, ingenuity and therefore efficiency and we can summarize that 1 design does not fit all sites.

    The subsequent scam comments are categorically flawed because you’re argument suggests that the company has no interest in profiting without subsidy, which is factually wrong. If subsidies are removed either the design will be revised and tailored to the source or retribution will take place.

    Categorically, wind power is one of the cleanest forms of energy production known to man as well as water, even if you consider the materials and energy required to make the equipment… if needed, a traditional windmill could be hand hewn with a saw that is over 160 years old and fabricated out of regenerative forests, it doesn’t get much cheaper or greener. I’m not suggesting those means and methods are appropriate now, but the fact remains that wind power is nearly free if you are resourceful enough to make the windmill yourself and hit up some scrap yards for alternators and learn how to weld and so on….

    the entire reason you are seeing “farms” is because the “public” perception of a windmill is “negative”. the negative perception cascades into zoning laws, property restrictions, and the necessity of conglomerating production onto large tracts of land with large equipment that the source (traditional wind patterns) can’t support without customizing each windmill to fit each site. There is no logic that suggests a 5mph wind can turn a prop and unit at a profit where the unit was initially designed for 15-20mph winds. The units need to be scalable at a wholistic level. If you’re source is 25% of the initial source you need 4 times as much surface area or 25% less resistance or load requirements…. that is logical.

    More over, the perception of a windmill needs to be positive, such that values on all accounts increase, zoning restrictions on “height” and other “rules” that control the use of land dilute and people could supply their own power on their own property…. it’s pretty fashionable to play the victim when you’re the one choosing to pay the company… if you don’t like the provider, provide your own and then you will find the REAL problems. No you are not “forced” to pay for power.

    I can speak from experience, my uncle constructed from scrap and raw materials, and erected, and acquired the approvals to powered his “normal” house from a 100′ home-made windmill in the Barker area for over 25 years which includes recycled industrial batteries to store power off-peak, he is, literally “off the grid”. There is no wire from the street to his house, although the power company really wanted to keep him hooked up to keep him on the hook for the minimum charge based on “estimated use”… and thats why you disconnect, because even if you use zero, they say you “could use x”.

    He acquired the plans, made the blades, made the gear box from a car transmission, used alternator coils, relocated a windsock tower, and used a 1960’s crane truck permanently attached to concrete anchors to maintain it.

    Wind energy is not flawed, the companies are not corrupt tax sucking welfare companies, but they are misguided and blindly funded using cookie cutter turbines designed for other sites that are not appropriate and/or scalable to this environment and when the subsidies run out, changes will come… thankfully the leg work is being done and distributed across a large base (the tax base) to lay the foundation for the future.

    Instead of providing an article suggesting a scam, how about providing a solution to the problems such as scalable turbines, site specificity, macro zoning issues, negative public perception, and other large scale issues…. At a minimum, request legislation that requires the units to be 85% producing…. watch how fast windmill options grow.

    • I’m sorry to disagree with you about subsidies being a scam, because there’s no way wind power can be profitable without them … or without other government support, such as RPS.
      Your uncle should be commended for his ingenuity and self reliance, but his success is no formula for a nationwide system of wind farms, or individual wind units.
      People don’t want wind towers near their homes, just like they don’t like drill rigs near their homes. At least with drill rigs, the rigs leave after a few months, while wind towers remain for 20 years or more.
      Wind power isn’t free when it’s designed to serve the grid. For example, there’s the cost of expensive back-up power, storage and transmission lines.
      The solution is to stop trying to build wind farms and, instead, build inexpensive natural gas and coal-fired power plants. They produce the least costly electricity, which is good for homeowners and industry.
      Modern NGCC and coal-fired units are very “clean”, with minimal emissions, except for CO2.
      This brings us full circle to the root cause of subsidies for wind and solar … an attempt to cut CO2 emissions.

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