Business

Wind Turbine Tower Collapses Killing One Worker

OPB | Aug. 27, 2007 8:42 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:19 a.m. | Wasco, OR

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By Colin Fogarty

German manufacturer Siemens has suspended inspections of it's wind turbines around the world, after one collapsed in Oregon over the weekend.

The accident occurred near the small town of  Wasco a few miles above the Columbia River Gorge.  One man was killed and another was injured.  Colin Fogarty reports from there.


Wind Power TowerThe image of wind energy is sleek, high tech turbines that generate electricity with no pollution and without killing fish.  But near Wasco, one of those turbines turned deadly when it fell down…literally snapped in half with the metal carnage down below in a wheat field.

The plateau that rises above the Columbia River Gorge is endless stretches of golden hills with dark chocolate soil waiting for next year's wheat.

The rows and rows of  wind turbines look like small airplanes atop elegant towers.  But instead of wings, these "planes" have gigantic propellers. Late Saturday afternoon, three workers from German turbine maker Siemens were on the tower, when it collapsed.

Jan Johnson is a spokeswoman for PPM energy, the company building this wind farm.

Jan Johnson: "Our sympathy goes out to the families and the colleagues of these workers.  We're not talking about the incident until the investigators have had a full chance.  We're waiting for their reports.  We're just trying to find out until we put out that information."

It was windy that day, but not extremely windy. The PPM wind farm has nearly 200 high tech windmills here.  Most of them were made by GE.  But the one that fell is higher powered than those.

It's made by Siemens, the German corporation.  The company's U.S. spokeswoman is Melanie Forbrick, based in Florida.

She says the company is working with federal officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigating what happened.

Melanie Forbrick: "I wish we really knew. That's what we're doing now is to work with the OSHA representatives in Oregon to investigate that and learn all the facts. What we do know is that we had 3 workers performing what we call a 500 hour inspection on a wind turbine unit. Obviously something occurred as a result. We have one employee who was killed as a result, another employee who was released and another who was unharmed."

Back at the site of the accident, a PPM worker is erecting a gate to keep out gawkers.  A private security guard is also on hand.

There's a makeshift memorial along the gravel road.  It's a wooden cross with messages scribbled across it, flowers, and glass jars for people to leave messages.  One jar has a note and a cigarette.  Two others have pictures of what looks like co-workers.

It's quiet here.  PPM Energy say it's not that the wind here is so powerful that makes it good for wind energy.  It's actually moderate wind.  But it's located right near the electricity grid generated by the Columbia River dams.

It's all meant more traffic, but it's been good for business in the small town of Wasco a few miles away.  

At the Lein To Cafe and Goose Pit Saloon, people are talking about the accident.  The co-owner of the tavern, Kathy Neihard says foot traffic generated by the turbines has allowed her to get a new kitchen floor and a new roof.

Kathy Niehard: "It's brought us back to reality.  We actually have some cash flow.  A lot of lunch business, dinner business and some bar business from the boys.  I just know that accidents do happen and it's a sad situation."

PPM and Siemens won't say how long the investigation will take or when both company's wind operations will get back to normal. The Klondike Three wind farm is still slated to come on line and start generating electricity this fall.

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