Maryland’s Off-Shore Wind Farm Would Be More Dangerous Than You Think

by Adam Sandberg on March 13, 2013

in Blog, Features

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With the Maryland’s Senate passing the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, it looks as if the U.S. is likely to build its first off-shore wind farm east of the Ocean City. The initiative has been widely endorsed by environmentalist groups, such as the Coalition for Wind Works for Maryland. As the coalition states on its website:

“Bringing offshore wind power to Maryland will effectively stabilize electricity rates, create jobs, reduce pollution, and provide us with a local source of clean, renewable energy.”

According to current plans, any offshore windfarm built pursuant to the legislation would be approximately 10 nautical miles (11.5 miles) from the Atlantic coast and produce 200 megawatts – supposedly providing about 1 percent of the state’s electric needs.

As we’ve frequently pointed out, wind power plants are inefficient, costly and in need of heavy subsidization. But the cost may not only be measured in dollars–reports show that the turbines are in fact quite dangerous as well. For instance, two windmill accidents have been reported in Sweden in the few weeks alone.  In February, a blade fell down while a turbine was being repaired, crushing a parked car. This past Sunday, a windmill spun out of control after a safety mechanism failed, forcing the nearby residents to evacuate for 24 hours until two blades finally came off in the strong winds.

And not every accident leaves people unscathed. Last December, a German crane operator was killed when a blade fell on his cab during the installation of a windmill. A survey performed by RenewableUK, a wind power trade association, estimated that 1,500 accidents had occurred between 2006 and 2011 in the UK alone, including 300 injuries and 4 deaths. Focusing on wind farms, the Health and Safety Executive’s figures showed three fatal accidents between 2007 and 2010 and a total of 53 major or dangerous incidents during the same time frame.

According to data gathered by Caithness Windfarms, an anti-wind farm group in Scotland, the most frequent types of accidents that occur are turbine fires, blade failure, and structural failure causing turbine damage or tower collapse. Blade fragments have been reported to travel up to one mile, and blades have been witnessed throwing off chunks of ice up to distances of 460 feet.

But don’t think that the Maryland wind farm’s off-shore location will eliminate the risk of accidents or injuries due to the absence of people nearby. Caithness Windfarm’s data shows that 62% of all fatalities and 83% of all injuries involved wind industry workers. Considering that the Maryland wind farm needs to be constructed, maintained, repaired, and ultimately replaced, the risks are not particularly diminished by its remoteness. As the Health and Safety Executive writes:

“The hazards (…) include working from height, slips and trips, contact with moving machinery, possible risks of electrocution or from fire and construction in very windy conditions. Offshore construction is even more hazardous including risks from large waves, diving activities, siting the turbines and issues such as stepping from a boat onto a turbine. Wind turbines also require regular maintenance; therefore workers will be exposed to these risks regularly.”

The total number of wind power injuries may come across as quite low. However, when you consider how low the total electrical output of wind power actually is, the number of injuries is surprisingly high compared to other energy sources. In fact, as the Heritage Foundation suggests, the wind power industry mortality rate is notably higher than coal power when adjusted for actual megawatt-hours of produced energy. In the western world, coal and oil have the highest danger levels for conventional sources of energy, while renewable power sources are popularly regarded as safe. But measuring injuries in terms of actual energy produced puts things in a whole new perspective. And this is indeed the best method, since the goal is to replace a large portion of conventional power sources with wind power. While the negative economic impacts of wind power are being ignored by environmentalists and governments, it remains to be seen if the more physical dangers will get their attention.

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