A PUBLICLY funded, £37,000 wind turbine sited next to a community hall in north-west Sutherland has crashed to the ground for a second time.
The tower of the 15-metre high turbine at remote Rhue Stoer Hall, north of Lochinver, snapped in two last Thursday, sending the gear box housing and blades tumbling to the ground. It is the second such structural failure in two years.
The turbine was reported to be "askew" and making a "funny noise" just prior to the crash.
Members of the Rhue Stoer Community Association, which runs the hall, were remaining tight lipped about the latest occurrence. But the incident has reignited concerns about siting small-scale wind turbines close to public buildings, particularly schools.
Stoer resident and turbine safety campaigner Dr Stephanie James has now renewed her call to Highland Council to take down the turbine at Stoer Primary School, and others.
She warned: "Highland Council is being negligent in maintaining that these turbines are safe when clearly they are not safe. It is an accident waiting to happen."
Planning consent was granted in November 2010 to site a 6kw wind turbine on a rise to the south-east of Rhue Stoer Hall and 90 metres from the B869.
Opponents claimed the turbine would be visually intrusive and a noise nuisance.
But hall managers went ahead and erected the French made Eoltec Scirocco wind turbine in mid 2011, with funding from public sources. Just six months later, on Hogmanay 2012, one of the turbine blades flew off, landing several metres away from the tower. The remaining blade crashed to the ground later.
Engineers from the manufacturing firm travelled to Stoer and took away the mangled remains for investigation, the outcome of which is not known.
A heavier duty gearbox and blades was eventually fitted to the existing tower and the turbine began operating again in the middle of 2012.
But its failure was the precursor to concerns being raised over the safety of Highland Council’s programme to install small-scale Proven WT6000 turbines at schools at a cost of £25,000 each.
In February 2012, worried north councillors refused to sanction planning applications for two new turbines at schools in Inverness and Nairn.
Three months later the authority gave in to mounting pressure and shut down all 16 of its school turbines pending individual risk assessments by independent consultants.
Three of the turbines involved were at Sutherland schools – Dornoch Academy, Rosehall Primary and Stoer Primary.
But the order to turn the blades on again was given in November 2012 after the consultants concluded that the turbines operated safely in wind speeds up to 134mph. The latest incident involving the Rhue Stoer turbine happened between 8.50am and 9.05am last Thursday, in relatively moderate weather conditions but following a storm the day before.
Psychologist Dr James, who lives close to the hall, said she had become aware the turbine was not working properly that morning.
She said: "The turbine looked a bit askew and was making a funny noise. The top of the mast was leaning by about five to 10 degrees. Despite that I was quite astonished when, 10 minutes later, I saw it on the ground." Dr James wrote to Highland Council chief executive Steve Barron earlier this week informing him of the incident and once again flagged up her concern about the siting of micro turbines at schools – particularly Stoer.
She stated: "I request that you immediately lower the turbine at Stoer School until such time as you can satisfy the public that the likelihood of such a catastrophic occurrence happening at the school is nil. I consider it can only be a matter of time before a fatality occurs. This most recent incident simply compounds my concerns."
Dr James has dismissed the risk assessment carried out by Highland Council on turbines at schools as "risible" and a paper exercise which did not take into account variables at individual sites.
She said: "The writing is clearly on the wall. These turbines are not built to withstand the strong winds we get in the north-west." North anti-wind farm campaigner Brenda Herrick said: "The consultants’ report recommended ‘turbine siting safety zones’ consisting of a fall zone, a wider topple zone and a wider still ejection zone.
"This was ignored, presumably because there is not sufficient space, and it seems the council just hopes for the best.
"It should reconsider its practice of exposing children to danger and remove turbines from school playgrounds.
"I trust the Stoer Community Hall Association will not assume third time lucky and will now give up, in the interest of residents."
North, West and Central Sutherland councillor George Farlow, who supported siting a turbine at Rhue Stoer hall, said: "I look forward to hearing the outcome of the investigation into this structural failure.
"A review of wind turbines at schools has already been carried out by Highland Council. I do not know of any other similar incident in the Highlands. I continue to support communities who wish to grow."
Members of the Rhue Hall Community Association were reluctant to comment but said the group had already been in touch with the turbine supplier and would have a committee meeting to discuss the way forward.
A Highland Council spokesman said that the council would reply to Dr James in due course.