Officials reviewing options on wind turbine

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine - As officials at the University of Maine at Presque Isle wait on final word about the cause of a fire that occurred in the wind turbine in early April, they have received findings that will help them to determine the best plan for moving forward and confirmed that safety mechanisms inside the unit worked as intended.

Officials say that the turbine experienced an error and caught fire around 11 p.m. on April 1, and that the unit shut down into safe mode as it was supposed to do, angling the blades to prevent them from catching in the wind. Emergency crews were on site to ensure safety and perimeter control. The fire burned itself out around 11:45 p.m.

No injuries reported.

University officials have ensured that both the site and the turbine have been secured since the incident.

Technicians from Vestas, the company that oversees the maintenance of the turbine, were on site in early April to complete a damage assessment. An expert from the company, who specializes in examining turbines that have experienced major malfunctions and fires, began an investigation into how the fire occurred. The investigation remains under review but could take several months.

An engineer hired as part of the insurance claim eligibility process was able to look at the turbine and investigate the cause of the fire. According to the engineer’s findings, the turbine experienced an arc flash that caused an electrical fire. Officials with Vestas have declared the nacelle a total loss, though the tower and foundation are reusable, and will be providing the University with the costs for options ranging from decommissioning of the turbine to replacement of the unit. Clean-up at the site to remove the damaged nacelle could occur as early as this summer but is expected before the end of the year.

University officials are working with the University of Maine System Office of Risk Management on the insurance claim and with UMPI’s Green Campus Committee to review plans for moving forward that focus on safety and sustainability.

“Safety is still our primary concern with this situation, so we are keeping the site secured and the area taped off as we work to determine the best way to move forward,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “Whatever option we take, we want it to be one that best meets the needs of our campus, creates the safest environment for our community, and establishes the longest-term sustainable solution for UMPI.”

Vestas officials have confirmed that the turbine was up to date in its regularly scheduled maintenance.

“Vestas performs scheduled service on a semi-annual basis at the site as part of the service contract, and has done so since December 2012,” Chanté Condit-Pottol, Communications Specialist with Vestas, stated. “Vestas is working with UMPI to support the investigation into the root cause of the incident.”

The University of Maine at Presque Isle wind turbine has generated more than 4.7 million kiloWatt hours of emission-free power since it became operational in 2009.