Town officials hosted NextEra company brass, NYS Department of Public Service
By Andrew Harris
A second public meeting that focused on the March 2023 wind turbine fire in the Town of West Union wasn’t as heavily attended or as contentious as the first. The little town hall was nonetheless still full of residents who were curious, disgruntled, impacted, and worried about the aftermath from the fire.
About a dozen landowners attended the regular monthly meeting of the town board, three representatives from NextEra Energy, and a representative from the New York State Department of Public Service(DPS.) Landowners were there for an update on the clean up effort from the fire, NextEra was there to update and answer questions (as best they could.) The DPS ecologist was on hand to answer questions from the regulatory perspective, mostly questions about agricultural cleanup from the fire, but also lots of questions about noise pollution from the wind turbines.
After Town Supervisor Randy Heckman finished running through the standard town board meeting business, he opened the floor to NextEra which owns and operates the Eight Point wind farm.
Company officials explained that the process of cleaning up debris from the fire was about three weeks from completion. They also announced that the entire tower would be taken down early next week with a controlled demolition.
This raised some questions about why, when, and with what means. NextEra explained that because the tower was four hundred feet tall, simply replacing the turbine was not practical. The company plans to drop the massive tower early in the week of May 21 but indicated the event would not be publicly announced for safety concerns. Local fire departments will be notified and a large horn will be blasted in the minutes before the demolition.
Explosive charges will be used to drop the tower and NextEra intends to have that wreckage removed within the aforementioned three-week timeframe. If the demolition causes damage to the land, NextEra explained they would remediate and repair such damages. The main concern being oil and due to structural and safety concerns, the company can’t be sure that all the oil in the unit burned off during the fire.
NextEra revealed some of the details of the fire, details that make this not just a rare event in general, but one full of happenstance.
According to NextEra, the turbine was not operating at the time of the fire and two maintenance workers were doing work inside the structure at the time of the fire. Those employees were able to safely vacate the structure according to the company. While the unspecified cause seemed to be electrical, the company said that no investigation into potential arson or criminal activity has been conducted. They also stated that the fire was not caused by the maintenance work being done when the fire started, it was caused by a random electrical issue.
Another interesting point that NextEra explained was that the undetermined cause, was located in the base of the structure, not in the turbine that burned. This massive wind turbine caught fire while it was non-operational, because of a electrical issue housed in the base of the tower. The NextEra representatives were very honest about their lack of technical expertise and directed all detailed questions to the number provided to find the proper NextEra department(see below.) .
Concerning the nature of the debris which fell from the burning tower, which was blown over a mile away by the wind, NextEra reported that laboratory analysis was complete. That analysis stated that the material, even after being burnt, was non-toxic to humans and may simply cause minor skin irritation if handled, just like house insulation. After a question from the residents, NextEra admitted that no analysis was done to confirm if the material is toxic to livestock. Many of the concerns about the fallout are from farmers who are concerned about future land quality, feed/hay contamination, animal health, and economic losses.
Residents asked if the destroyed tower and turbine would be replaced and NextEra confirmed that a new wind turbine structure would be installed on the same site in the future. When pressed about the root cause of the fire, and the potential for more fires, NextEra stated that they had isolated the component that wasn’t working properly and tested that component in all the other turbines in West Union. NextEra reported that all other turbines were working normally and that the incident remains a, “rare and random” event.
Since the April town board meeting, NextEra has had staffing changes and has consolidated all of the previously provided phone numbers into one. If residents, landowners, or farmers have questions or need to file a claim for damages with NextEra call this number:
607 661 4369
The New York State Ecologist from the Department of Public Service was on hand to explain to residents and landowners how to provide documentation to the state regarding the incident. A dedicated website is and has been available as a resource, a place to make a complaint, and read all the documents related to the “Five Point Wind” farm in West Union. Here is a link to that site.
The DPS Ecologist also spent a large amount of time talking about another major issue with the wind farm in West Union: Noise pollution from the wind turbines.
That is another story for another day. Clearly the noise from the wind turbines has had a serious impact, perhaps even more of an impact than the fire.
ICYMI: Read our reporting from the prior town board meeting: