This blog is the fourth in a series of blogs examining the impacts of Hurricane Sandy and its connections to extreme weather and climate change. Other blogs can be read here.
About 3,500 megawatts of wind turbine capacity was in the path of Hurricane Sandy. As we wrote on October 26th, it wasn’t expected that Hurricane Sandy would cause much damage to wind turbines. Based on the experience from another Category 1 hurricane (Irene) that struck the Mid-Atlantic last year, the turbines in the region proved that they are built to withstand hurricane-force winds.
Thus far, it appears that no wind turbines suffered catastrophic failure because of Sandy.
Just as last year, the first wind turbine to be struck by Sandy in the United States was the University of Delaware’s 2 megawatt turbine. (Side note: Sandy hit wind turbines in Cuba first and those turbines “did not sustain any damage.”) The university prepared the turbine before the storm, and it was back in operation a couple days after the storm passed. You can watch the turbine on the University’s webcam here, and real-time output data here.
The Atlantic City Utility Authority’s five-turbine wind farm, the Jersey Atlantic Wind project (JAW), also survived Sandy. Those turbines are just two miles from the beach – and a lot of the casino hotels actually get tourists requesting turbine-view rooms. Those touristy turbines also drew Sandy’s eye – literally. Here’s a graphic of wind speeds from the JAW wind turbines – notice that huge 1 hour drop? Yeah, that’s Sandy’s eye passing right over the city.
The Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration keeps fantastic records of hurricanes over the years. The image below is from HRD showing Hurricane Sandy as it was almost right on top of Atlantic City. That dark blue dot is the storm’s eye – very little wind. As you can see, the storm was heading for a direct hit on Atlantic City – precisely where the JAW turbines are.
As the storm headed inland, its wind speeds died down, but the shear size of the storm effectively ensured it touched all wind farms from Chicago eastward. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) received notification from turbine operators across the region that turbines operated as expected. According to AWEA, “It appears that Hurricane Sandy has had some, but minimal, impact on the wind turbines in its path, according to early reports this week from several operators of East Coast wind farms and manufacturers and owners of smaller turbines, most of which started generating electricity again after the storm passed. Initial reports were received by e-mail from a number of wind farm operators accounting for 68 percent of the total 3,700 MW of wind generating capacity in the states located in the path of Sandy.”
With Hurricane Irene last year, and now Hurricane Sandy, we are beginning to collect invaluable case studies on how wind turbines handle hurricanes. The empirical evidence is that Category 1 hurricanes pose little to no threat to wind turbines. Even in the most hurricane-prone areas of the country, studies suggest that the risks posed by much larger hurricanes to wind farms is manageable. It’s just a matter of time before a Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane makes landfall and tests the true strength of all our electric generating assets – wind turbines, nuclear reactors and coal plants alike.