Wind Energy Projects and Safety

Wind turbines have an excellent safety record; however, as with any type of machinery, turbines may fail. Turbine failures are considered rare events with fewer than 40 incidents identified in the modern fleet of more than 40,000 turbines installed in the United States as of 2014.

Developers address safety concerns such as blade icing, the resulting shedding of the ice, and a potential blade throw by placing turbines so that they face away from inhabited structures and ensuring that turbines are properly maintained or removed if no longer functioning.

Ice Shedding

Under certain conditions, ice can accumulate on wind turbine blades and release during operation. A wind installation typically addresses such possibilities by employing adequate setbacks between each turbine and any nearby residences to avoid risk and using defined start-up procedures after icing events.

Severe ice buildup will lead to automatic turbine shut down until the condition improves. Modern turbines can be equipped with cold-weather packages, which make them adaptable to temperatures as low as -40 Celsius and reduce the risk of ice accumulation. These packages include special blade coatings to eliminate icing and thermostat-controlled resistive element or forced-air heaters strategically placed to heat instruments and operating components during cold weather conditions to prevent ice formation.

Blade Throws

Blade throws, a failure in which a turbine blade becomes detached mid-operation, are virtually non-existent on today’s turbines due to better engineering and the use of sensors. Although this type of failure was a concern in the early years of the wind industry, modern wind turbines are reliable, safe, state-of-the-art power plants with hundreds of thousands of hours of operating experience.

Small Wind Turbines and Safety

Purchasing a certified small wind turbine is the best way to ensure safe operation. The Small Wind Certification Council, UL, and other entities provide accredited, third-party verification for safety, performance, and durability of small wind turbines. The Clean Energy States Alliance maintains a unified list of certified wind turbines.

Wind Turbines and Human Health

Human health impacts from neighboring wind turbines are often topics of discussion when new projects are proposed. The following two reports provide examples of the many scientific assessments that have been performed in this area of research: