The 315-megawatt Ocotillo Express Wind project in Imperial County is shut down today after a 10-ton blade came loose from one of the project's 112 wind turbines, landing about 100 yards away on a public road. The accident took place one day after San Diego County loosened restrictions on siting large wind turbines near residential areas.
"It looks as though the blade came off while the tip was pointed at the ground, and then tumbled," Ocotillo resident Parke Ewing told ReWire. "I'd say the end of the blade that had been connected to the rotor landed about a football field's length away from the turbine it came off of."
According to a press release put out Thursday by local opponents of the wind project, the blade came to rest on a publicly accessible jeep trail passing through land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
"My grandchildren are out there all the time," said Ewing. "We're all just incredibly lucky that no one was killed."
Pattern Energy spokesperson Matt Dallas told ReWire that inspectors from turbine manufacturer Siemens were on site Thursday morning gathering information on the incident. We'll share that information with you as we receive it.
A press release from the local Protect Our Communities Foundation pointed out an irony in the accident's timing. "This wholly avoidable public health and safety hazard occurred just one day after San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the revised Wind Energy Ordinance & Boulevard Community Plan to remove community protections to allow 500 foot tall industrial wind turbines on private land in previously protected areas near homes, recreation areas, and sensitive wildlife -- just like the BLM did for Pattern Energy's Ocotillo Wind," said the release.
Documented instances of blade throw with comparable wind turbines show that blades can actually travel about twice as far as Parke estimated for Thursday's incident. That's a sobering thought for travelers on Interstate 8 past Ocotillo, with turbines well within that throw distance of the freeway, as well as on Interstate 10 through North Palm Springs where similarly closely placed turbines line the roadway.
We'll update this story as it develops.