Safety issues discussed at Tribunal

by Harvey Wrightman

Wm.K.G. (Bill) Palmer, P.Eng , whose specialty was safety and risk management for Ontario Hydro, said this about safety and the wind industry,

“A problem that exists is that unlike mature technologies where failure events are carefully documented, studied and shared so that the entire industry can learn from failures, the wind industry tends to be competitive, and focused on confidentiality. Wide reporting of failures has an adverse impact on investor confidence. Further, an adversarial relationship with the public developed early on… failures are not well communicated to the public… there is no publicly available database of wind turbine failures maintained by the industry …”

I attended the March 2 ERT session in Toronto. I can’t write about Bill Palmer’s testimony as his status as an expert witness is still in limbo – a bit odd, as watching him expound on 2 very arcane subjects, wind turbine noise and safety issues, I was left with the impression that Bill is more than an expert – he insists that it is his duty to explain technical matters in a way that all can understand. The cross-examinations by Mr.Engel and Ms Huckins were both rather abruptly ended when they posed questions that highlighted the inconsistencies of their own arguments – many times in this case I have watched the lawyers choke while chewing.

The afternoon session can only be described as surreal. The witness was Pierre Heraud, a physicist who works for GL Garrad Hassan (GL GH), a conglomerate which is the world’s largest, independent renewable consultant. The GL part stands for Germanischer Lloyd which is a classification society formed originally for the German ship-building industry, now very heavily involved with the German banking, insurance and wind industry. GL does a great many of the engineering certifications both for the manufacturers and for the constructors. Draw your own conclusions.

Now the weird part, Dr. Heraud, a physicist, had written the GL GH “Ice Throw Risk Assessment” for Kent Breeze. Bill’s submission contained 7 comments on that risk assessment. He found numerous errors, some of large significance. The worst was a gross under-estimation of the risk area – essentially by a factor of ~ 100,000 – not exactly minor. The result was that for ~ 20 minutes at least, Mr.Engel, with his hands sweat-glued to the table, and his shoulder pads enshrouding his ears, went through a mind-numbing, page-turning exercise “making changes” to the document. Most of the gallery was bewildered (I had read Bill’s submission prior, so had an idea of what they were doing). And Dr.Pierre Heraud, kept smirking away and answering “yes” or “no” as he felt necessary. It was beyond absurd.

Dr.Heraud also showed a cavalier attitude about safety. When asked about persons getting too close to turbines (trespassing for instance), he said, “ They should not be at the wind turbine zones.” Presumably that would also apply to the school bus that goes down a road past a turbine within the legal distance of 60m (blade length + 10m).

When all the questioning was done, Dr.Heraud maintained that there would be no safety problems with the installation – of course, he is not an engineer, and someone else in the company signed off on the risk assessment – but its his “work” really, flaws and all.

Mr.Gillespie had only a couple of questions for him. One was re: the reporting of turbine accidents. Dr.Heraud confirmed that there is no mandatory system such as exists for the aircraft industry. For the wind industry it’s “shoot, shovel, shut-up.”

Ontario has ~ 700 wind turbines in operation. At this time, this is what we know about the “very robust review process” of the MOE:

1) the MOE does not have a protocol for measuring wind turbine noise in the field. An officer comes to a site, “cocks his/her ear”, and records his/her notions.

2) the MOE does not apply the 5 dBA penalty of NPC-204, specified for “cyclic noise or other amplitude modulation”; and, as Rick James stated in his testimony (unchallenged) to the ERT, the blade “swish” noise that is 1 – 3 dBA in daytime can grow to a pronounced “thump” of 5 – 13 dBA under conditions of high wind shear ( almost always at night). Night time wind shear throughout Southern Ontario is typically high ( 0.40). High wind shear is responsible for ~ 25% of the power output of wind turbines. Shut-down of wind turbines during high wind shear events would severely affect the economics of the industry – no wonder that neither the industry nor the govt. will admit the reality of the situation.

3) noise assessments in Ontario can be created by anyone who can fill in the blanks on the forms. There is no certifying body or process for an “acoustical consultant.” Each one is assessed on submission essentially – “Acoustical Consultant” means a person currently active in the field of environmental acoustics and noise/vibration control, who is familiar with Ministry noise guidelines and procedures and has a combination of formal university education, training and experience necessary to assess noise emissions from a Facility – as communicated to me by Michael Duong, P.Eng. Senior Review Engineer – Noise, Ministry of Environment

4) the MOE, in the case of Kent Breeze, accepted a very flawed “Ice Throw Risk Assessment.” – the MOE’s senior engineer, John Kowalewski and his Director, Dr. Mansur Mahmood, missed serious errors with the safety assessment, despite 2 months of intense review.

The wind industry has a chosen to withhold information about safety and noise that it should openly discuss and address. It often uses “unlicensed” personnel in the design of the operations. This all leads to an inconsistency in design and construction standards. Consequently, the industry has a higher “blades on the ground” failure rate – about 4x the world average. With this reckless attitude towards safety, the wind industry has chosen to poison the waters of public sentiment. The MOE with a simple wave of the ministerial hand, bestows approvals without adequate review – you, Dr. Mansur Mahmood – your signature is on the certificate. You made the guarantee.

Harvey Wrightman


Posted on March 26, 2011, in Environmental Review Tribunal, Green Energy Act, Ministry of Environment, Noise, Suncor, Take it to court. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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