Loyalist Township is demanding answers after an industrial wind turbine on Amherst Island cast chunks of ice from its blades onto the Stella 40-foot Road Feb. 7.
According to a report from the township’s director of infrastructure services Dave Thompson, the area experienced dramatic temperature fluctuations and moderately high precipitation that night. The township’s night patrol operator noticed pieces of ice (which Thompson told the Beaver were about the size of softballs) on the roadway between Third Concession Road and South Shore Road and informed the public works manager, who contacted developer Windlectric. It remotely deactivated Turbine S37 within an hour-and-a-half. It was out of operation until Feb. 10 when Windlectric could conduct a visual inspection to ensure no additional ice would fall.
Thompson said staff has since had conversations with Windlectic about mitigation, signage, and communications related to ice drop. During those communications, Windlectric advised it will improve daily its routines for monitoring weather conditions and forecasts and in the case of extreme weather, operational staff will be instructed to closely monitor turbine controls and alarms. Also, Thompson reported that after Feb. 7 Windlectric reviewed its control systems and made adjustments that would improve ice detection and optimize controls.
Following up, township staff requested Windlectric establish safe operational distances so that signage may be placed in appropriate locations to warn travellers of potential risk.
Michelle LeLay, of the Association to Protect Amherst Island group that opposed the installations, appeared before council. She said residents raised concerns in 2014 about ice throw, but Windlectric said it could not happen because the turbines had detectors that would recognize ice forming and stop the operation of the turbine. The February incident, she said, confirmed their worries.
“We now know those detectors are not as efficient as we were led to believe. Our concerns are a reality.”
LeLay said she hopes the ice will be monitored in the future, but she’s not so certain that signage will increase safety. Also, she called for better communication from the company and the township with residents, noting there was no public report of the incident until Feb. 15 and she still would like to hear about the proposed mitigation strategies directly.
“As a resident, I’m hoping measures are being taken to ensure the safety of Amherst Island residents.”
Windlectric representative Jim Tait was scheduled to be at the meeting Tuesday, but his flight was cancelled. Thompson told councillors he had spoken with Tait at length that morning and felt the company was moving in the right direction.
Councillor Penny Porter noted that in Thompson’s report, he mentioned that Windlectric anticipates its system diagnosis will work during icy systems. She wondered what prompted that confidence given the system had literally failed.
Thompson said he felt Windlectric’s three-part approach with situational awareness, optimized controls, and the use of an additional redundant remote system to alert more staff was reasonable. He also said that of the many ice events that night, the ice impacts on wires and trees posed greater concern to township staff.
Porter was not convinced.
“I would think — and this is totally from a layman’s perspective, of course — something spinning around on a wind turbine with ice flying off and becoming projectiles is a little more dangerous and serious than ice on an electrical line, which is something we can all expect and are very aware of. To me this is a very serious matter,” she said. “That flying ice chunk could literally kill somebody. That’s something we need to take very seriously and make sure we can address it in the most strenuous of terms.”
Deputy mayor Jim Hegadorn said while the Feb. 7 incident was isolated, he understood safety procedures were already in place for all the turbines. He said he’d like to ensure that all the project’s sites will be safe in a storm.
“If the wind had been blowing in a different direction, could a different turbine have been throwing ice on a different section of road, a house, or livestock,” he asked. Citing resident health and safety, Amherst Island councillor Nathan Townend moved that Loyalist demand from Windlectric detailed public explanation so that residents understand how and why the ice throws occurred and, in the same statement, the company offer exhaustive details, procedures and protocols to ensure there is no repeat. The company was also asked to propose a reasonable timeline for that communication to be shared and posted by the township online at its discretion.
Townend, in his following comments, indicated he wanted to see Windlectric take responsibility.
“Part of the issue for me is that it would be naive for us to assume in the lifespan of these installations there would be no further safety concerns. As this is the first of its kind, it’s important that we get it right. It’s absolutely essential to me that responsibility needs to be put where it belongs, with the wind company,” he said. “We are responsible for the safety of the roads. We should not be responsible for ice chunks being thrown from private property — from a private wind company project — through someone’s windshield. We already know that as a municipality we’re under lots of liability for a lot of other things and this shouldn’t be one of them.”
He said he felt any work done by township staff to ensure public safety should be billed to the company and the onus should be on Windlectric to post its own signage. If the township posted signs, he said it could be liable.
Also, Townend said he felt the answers councillors and the public received thus far were filled with “a lot of babble and a lot of corporate speak.” He said the company ensured residents ice throw wouldn’t happen and now that it did, answers are needed. “The onus really needs to be on Windlectric to take responsibility.” Council unanimously supported his call for a report and backed a recommendation for a public delegation from the company.