Member for Gippsland Darren Chester (Nationals) has made a clumsy entry into the wind energy debate by claiming wind turbines are a fire risk.
So, what is known about wind turbines and fire?
According close observer of wind energy in Australia and Yes 2 Renewables contributor, David Clarke:
There have been three fires in wind turbines in Australia that I know of: Lake Bonney, Jan. 2006; Cathedral Rocks, Feb. 2009 and Starfish Hill, Oct. 2010; all of them were in SA. The first was due to an electrical fault during maintenance work. I do not know the cause of the Starfish Hill fire; the other happened during ‘normal’ operation. While I believe there were spot fires around the Cathedral Rocks turbine, none of these caused a bushfire, but the possibility is there.
Contrary to Darren Chester’s insinuation, the presence of wind turbines in the landscape may actually reduce fire risk. As the structures are fitted out with lightning protection devices they allow nature’s electrical currents a safe path to the ground. Lightning striking a turbine tower is much safer than striking a bone-dry field or tree, both of which may ignite.
Wind farm minimise fire risk in another way. As Clarke points out, “…turbine access roads would help emergency services access any fire.” This reasonable claim that was put to the test at The Bluff wind farm in Hallett, South Australia. Turbine access roads helped South Australian country fire fighters combat a grass fire caused by lightning. The photograph below says it all:
According to the Victorian Government, lightning strike is responsible for 26 percent of wildfires and 46 percent of the area burned. 25 percent of bush fires are deliberately lit. Other causes of fire are burning off, campfires, matches and cigarettes, machinery, and escaped back burning. Wind farms are not listed among the sources of ignition.