As Hurricane Irene careens towards the east coast of the United States and residents rush to batten down the hatches we must not forget to take care of our renewable energy generators — especially wind turbines. In the past 11 years the United States has installed over 38,000 megawatts of wind power with almost 3,000 watts standing directly in Irene’s path. Though most wind turbines are built to withstand category 5 hurricanes, most of our installed wind power was erected after the last major hurricane (Hurricane Bob in 1991) hit the east coast. Though theoretically, the large turbines should be fine, a small error in manufacturing, installation or maintenance could prove deadly for them. As for small turbines on rooftops, experts are saying to remove them immediately.

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In Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Assistant Town Planner Gary Crosby is in charge of making sure the town’s turbine stays erect and functioning through Hurricane Irene’s winds and rain — in Rhode Island winds could reach near 100 miles an hour. He told that if the turbine weathers the storm, other problems could arise when the winds pass. Most turbines are equipped with sensors that will feather their blades — turn them into the wind to minimize lift — and shut off if winds are 45 miles per hour or more for longer than 10 minutes. When the winds pass a turbine’s internal sensor, the battery powered system must be in working order for it to turn itself back on and generate the correct amount of energy to get the turbines spinning again and begin feeding power to the grid once again.

They are overdesigned to be safe,” said Tom Wineman, principal and owner of Clean Energy Design, a Massachusetts-based company that installs renewable energy technology. Some towns along the coast are opting to put their turbines in protective mode manually to diminish the possibility of damage. Falmouth, Massachusetts has already shut down their Wind 1 turbine. With the cost of commercial scale turbines running up into the millions of dollars, every protective measure should be taken to ensure the safety of the equipment. Even if the instruction manual says it can withstand rare and dangerous storms like Irene, why take the chance if you’ve never tested it?

+ Inhabitat Hurricane Irene Coverage