Two turbines fall down in France -- Unrelated failures

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Two Lagerwey turbines have fallen down on the English Channel coast of northern France this year in unrelated incidents in different circumstances and apparently due to different causes.

The first was a 750 kW model at the Le Portel Plage wind station near Boulogne. A blade problem is being put forward as the most likely reason why the turbine buckled at its centre section in the early hours of January 1. However, the investigation is not yet complete.

The blades were supplied by French company A Tout Vent and had met the safety requirements demanded by the project developer, Innovent. Site inspections, however, found that the blades had worn badly since installation in 2002. The blades of three still standing Lagerwey turbines at Le Portel Plage have since been replaced with blades from a new manufacturer, Euros, as have those of a Lagerwey operating at the Verhaeghe Industries factory at Bondues. Another Lagerwey turbine at Bondues of the same type, however, has been operating without problems for 12 years.

New replacement

The failed turbine has since been demolished. It will be replaced by a WinWind 1 MW unit from Finland. This machine, says Innovent, was designed "to withstand the conditions of the Arctic Circle and the Baltic Sea."

The problems at Le Portel Plage have been indirectly blamed on the requirement of national environment agency ADEME and the regional government that 50% of the project's components were to be of French origin. Innovent boss Grégoire Verhaeghe says he hopes French industry will learn from the experience rather than be put off by it.

The second failed Lagerwey turbine -- an older 300 kW model -- was brought down by gusts of winds reaching 31 m/s (110 kmh) at Dunkirk on March 20. Early investigations have identified weak foundations as the cause. It was one of nine turbines installed on the Dique de Braek in 1997 as a prestige project for the port of Dunkirk and an early showpiece of the French wind industry.

Despite its high profile beginnings, the future of the wind farm had been in doubt for some time and this accident looks certain to seal its fate. For several months it has been known that the operator, SAEML Eoliennes Nord Pas-de-Calais -- jointly owned by the regional and municipal governments and a subsidiary of the utility EDF -- has been hoping to sell the wind farm, which has been running at less than optimum availability. The bankruptcy of Lagerwey has also been a factor in the decision to sell. Consideration has been given to a repowering of the site with new and larger turbines from a different manufacturer.

Renewable energy lobby group Syndicate de Energies Renouvelables was anxious to distance the mainstream French wind industry from what look like two instances of poor manufacturing and/or maintenance, insisting that the incidents should be treated as one-off warning signs. It wants the government to issue a decree that ensures all wind turbines erected in France conform to international standards and that their foundations are checked by building inspectors.

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