By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
An energy company is continuing to investigate the collapse of one of its wind turbines near Cheyenne last month, an event a University of Wyoming expert called very rare.
Duke Energy spokeswoman Valerie Patterson told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that the investigation being conducted is a detailed and deliberative process so company officials will be able to understand what happened, learn from the incident and prevent it from happening again.
“Cleanup efforts are being conducted by site personnel, our engineering team and a third-party engineering firm,” she said. “A complete and thorough cleanup of the area will be done to restore the area to its original condition.”
The 262-foot turbine collapsed in late February. No one was injured.
Patterson previously told Cowboy State Daily that after the investigation was completed, Duke officials would decide whether to repair or replace the turbine. There was no timeline on when that would occur, though.
Wind turbines are built to operate anywhere from 20 to 30 years, but the lifespan could vary.
University of Wyoming Professor Jonathan Naughton, director of the Wind Energy Research Center, told Cowboy State Daily that the likelihood of a wind turbine failing catastrophically is low.
“I’ve only heard of two ‘catastrophic’ incidents happening in Wyoming since these wind turbines went in, this one on Happy Jack and one other,” he said. “There are about 1,500 turbines in Wyoming, so one failure out of 1,500, that’s not a bad number from an industry perspective.”
Naughton added that turbines are not 100% perfect, and malfunctions will and do happen, although they are not usually severe enough to cause a turbine collapse.
He pointed out that no engineered system is 100% perfect, either.
“The overall damage from a turbine falling is pretty small and it’s mainly damages to the owner/operator,” he said. “It’s very unlikely it will hurt somebody. I’ve never heard of an occasion where a wind plant had a failure that had some kind of impact on somebody standing underneath it. They’re just not designed to do.”
Duke Energy has managed the turbine site at Happy Jack since 2008 and runs 14 turbines there currently. The company also operates three other turbine farms in Wyoming: one more in Laramie County and two in Converse County, all of which have been in operation for more than a decade.
Duke provides energy for consumers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Florida.