Op-ed: Utility-scale wind power needs to rise to fire risk mitigation challenge

By Angela Krcmar, Global Sales Manager for Wind, Firetrace

The U.S. wind industry is set for a huge boost in government investment and support with the president-elect promising a $2 trillion effort to fully decarbonize the US energy grid by 2035 with a focus on installation of new wind and solar projects.

 However, with increased government investment and support comes increased scrutiny. Therefore, the industry must also be prepared for additional environmental regulations, including those around fire safety, in line with other leading forms of power generation.

This is according to Firetrace, a supplier of automatic fire suppression systems, highlighting that a proactive approach to managing fire risk is key to maintaining wind’s current positive reputation among the public and the incoming administration.

 For example, all power plants across the U.S. must comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards in order to ensure their operations are sufficiently safe. Coal, gas, and nuclear are all regulated to ensure that sufficient fire detection and suppression systems are installed in order to guarantee the safety of staff onsite.

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 To date, wind has avoided strict regulation, in part because the industry has only recently shifted away from small wind farms to larger utility scale projects since the mid-2000s. While NFPA 850, the code for fire safety in power generation, does provide a standard for wind turbine fire safety, fire detection and suppression systems are only recommended, and not required at this point.

 However, a growing number of both local and state governments in the US are acknowledging that fire suppression in wind is a necessary step to safeguard wind projects and the surrounding environment and property in the event of a fire in a wind turbine.

 In New Hampshire, for example, a legal dispute was sparked between the fire marshal and a leading utility over whether a wind farm followed the state’s fire code and was only resolved by the retrofitting of fire suppression systems. Outside the US, following a number of high-profile wind turbine fires, countries like Germany and Canada’s Ontario province have already mandated fire suppression for new projects, and in the latter’s case, require fire suppression to be retrofitted to existing sites.

According to Firetrace, given the number of wind turbine fires that have been made public over the past month, it is only a matter of time before a similar level of scrutiny over fire protection is rolled out on a national scale in the US. The wind industry must ensure it is proactive in ensuring it is following best practice for preventing and suppressing fire.

  Proactively managing fire risk doesn’t just enable owners and operators to prepare for upcoming regulations – it can also help maintain positive relations with local stakeholders and surrounding communities. By taking steps to prevent and suppress fires, owners and operators can avert damage to not only individual assets, but the wider industry’s reputation for safety and environmental protection.”

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