PORTA High School Runaway Wind Turbine Collapses

By Jeremy Coumbes on April 22, 2023 at 8:33pm

Photo Credit: Petersburg Fire Department

A runaway wind turbine at an area high school is on the ground after spinning freely for nearly 24 hours.

Menard County Sheriff’s Deputies, Emergency Response personnel, and school administration officials responded to PORTA High School in Petersburg after the school’s multi-story wind turbine began spinning freely around 4:30 Friday afternoon.

PORTA Superintendent Matt Brue says the large wind turbine that sits at the edge of the school grounds near the baseball field was installed approximately 15 years ago and for many years provided as much as 70% of the school’s electricity.

Brue says the turbine has been shut down for the last two years however as parts were becoming more difficult to obtain for the older turbine. He says the system that kept the blades from spinning in the wind failed Friday afternoon.

When it’s shut down, there’s a breaking system that would let it rotate real slowly on occasion but not very much, and this was full-on spinning. So the braking system wasn’t working and there was no way to get it to stop. So we cleared the area yesterday afternoon and police and school staff were on site all day and night watching it.

It made it through the night but then this morning we started losing some of the blades on it. They started breaking and coming apart and it didn’t fly far or anything, it was all contained right there local so that was a great thing as well. Once that happened it slowed down quite a bit and then the tower itself failed at about four o’clock this afternoon.”

The PORTA girls’ softball game that was taking place near the turbine was postponed in the 3rd inning Friday as school and county officials cleared the area out of an abundance of caution.

A wind turbine technician was called in and Brue says the tech team had a plan for how to lock out the turbine but it could not be done while the blades were spinning. He said they had hoped the winds would have calmed long enough to allow the team to ascend the tower but the wind never slowed down enough.

Meard County Chief Deputy Sheriff Ben Hollis said he received the call that the turbine tower had failed near the bottom causing the tower to bend and the turbine to fall to the ground at 3:40 Saturday afternoon.

Brue says the school district already had a plan in place to do away with the old turbine after recent inquiries into having it repaired were unsuccessful. “A couple years now it’s been down and we’ve been trying to get companies to come in and work on it but it’s an older turbine and it’s kind of obsolete. We were actually going to decommission it this summer and have it taken down and hauled away. It was at the end of its useful life for us and so that process was already in motion.”

No one was injured when the tower fell. Brue praised the first responders that were on scene throughout the course of the event saying they did a great job.

He says both school and emergency officials are keeping the area around the tower clear of the public as the tower is still connected at the point it fractured. He says they are working on a plan to get it the rest of the way down so it is safe, and the demo process can be undertaken.