Will Hurricane Sandy Affect Wind Farms?

"Frankenstorm" Hurricane Sandy Takes Aim at the Northeast

This blog is the first in a series of blogs examining the impacts of Hurricane Sandy and its connections to extreme weather and climate change. Other blogs can be read here.

The National Weather Service is forecasting Hurricane Sandy will strike in the vicinity of the Mid-Atlantic, with Delaware and New Jersey squarely in the storm’s path. The DC to NYC crowd have awarded an alternative, nefarious name to Hurricane Sandy: “Frankenstorm.” As with previous storms of this magnitude, electric utility companies are preparing to do battle with this monster.

When Hurricane Irene struck the same region of the country just last year, utility companies began shutting down nuclear power stations several days in advance of that storm. Natural gas demand plummeted because so many electric power lines were down, ramping up natural gas power plants wasn’t an option. Despite all the flooding, winds and storm damage, not a single wind turbine was harmed.

At the time, about 174 megawatts of wind energy capacity was directly affected by Hurricane Irene. Perhaps twenty times as much wind energy capacity could be directly affected by Sandy than by Irene. Part of the reason for this bigger threat to wind energy is due to Sandy’s projected path. Right now, Sandy’s expected to rake across Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and Ohio. Collectively those states have more than 3,500 megawatts of wind energy capacity that may be in Hurricane Sandy’s path.

But here’s the good news – Hurricane Sandy is unlikely to do any major damage to wind turbines. Currently, Sandy is expected to hit the coast as a low-level Category 1 storm with winds around 80 miles per hour. Modern wind turbines are designed to protect themselves in extreme weather – including shutting down when winds get too high, even up to a Category 3 hurricane. The turbines in Delaware and New Jersey did just fine with Hurricane Irene last year.

Hopefully Hurricane Sandy’s impacts on the region will be manageable, and history suggests that wind turbines aren’t likely to be in much danger from the Frankenstorm. But the shear threat of destruction from Sandy and any future hurricane should cause pause. All power plants are susceptible to destruction – nuclear reactors melt down from earthquakes and tsunamis, coal waste ponds fail and wind turbines can topple. The question really is – what type of power plant do you really want in your back yard, if and when that power plant fails?

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A problem is that the winds may be radioactive.

Comment by Thomas Wells on October 26, 2012 5:10 pm

Certainly a strong enough hurricane can damage a few turbines – out of many in a “wind farm”. But large hurricanes have also shut down coal fired plants. Sometimes an instrument is damaged, causing the plant to be shut down for an hour or so; other times more sever damage occurs and a plant is down for a longer period of time.

Any kind of power plant can be damaged by a storm. Of course, the real damage is to power lines and poles. That is why utilities hire a large number of maintenance people, and lend people from unaffected utilities to affected ones.

Wind farms are in no more danger than coal plants.

Also, it is common practice for oil refineries to shut down before hurricanes because of the possibility of damage. It has always been this way, and probably always will be. As they say in all parts of the energy industry, “stuff happens”.

Comment by Robert Wilson on October 28, 2012 3:20 pm

[…] those interested in the effects that Hurricane Sandy (also known as “Frankenstorm”), CleanEnergy.org has an interesting post about the affect hurricanes have on wind […]

Pingback by Will the East Coast’s wind turbines survive Hurricane Sandy? | AtisSun Solar Insider News on October 29, 2012 2:25 pm

Mount Washington will also be safe… So what? Wind turbines will be safe, but still worhtless for predictable power generation. If a coal plant shuts down, it will be noticed by electricity customers. If a wind farm shuts down the only notice will be money saved by taxpayers — electricity customers won’t notice it.

Comment by archaeopteryx on October 29, 2012 6:38 pm

[…] wind farms be affected by hurricane Sandy? According to CleanEnergy Footprints, “Sandy is expected to rake across Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Upstate New […]

Pingback by Mapping Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012 5:40 am

Thank you Archaeopteryx for reading our blog – all the way from Greece! Wind farms do deliver predictable energy. The United States can fairly easily, without any new commercial technologies, reach at least 20% of its electric generation from wind energy. In fact, several states already do receive around 20% of their electricity from wind. States with large proportions of wind energy on their grid also have some of the most cost competitive electric rates in the country. Wind energy is frequently the lowest cost of new electric generation available. Alternatively, coal and nuclear power plants, if Sandy shuts them down, it can take them quite some time to come up to full operation.

Comment by Simon Mahan on October 30, 2012 8:16 am

A Cat 1 storm has around 80 mph winds. Let us wait and see what a larger storm that has 150 mph + winds will do. They can blow over oil platforms in the North Atlantic. We know that from experience. The big winds can also bring with them 80′-100′ waves. I would be surprised to see them escape damage from that type of storm.

Comment by John Holt on November 5, 2012 2:57 pm

Thanks John for your comment. A 150 mile-per-hour storm is a high-end Category 4 (close to Category 5) storm. At that level, very few man-made structures survive. However, the 40 year history of offshore oil work in the Gulf of Mexico can be instructive on how to build wind turbines to withstand those forces of nature. Another aspect to consider is risk – what is the risk, that within the 20-25 year lifespan of an offshore wind turbine, a Category 4/5 storm will make a direct-hit on a farm? Keep in mind, those high wind speeds only measure the interior forces of the storm and thus a direct hit is what matters the most. Evidently, even in the most hurricane-prone region of the country (off Galveston, Texas), the risk that a wind farm would suffer substantial losses is about 2%. Even with that risk, insurers will be able to determine the insurance premiums necessary.


It’s much less than that in other places that receive relatively few direct hurricane strikes – like Georgia.

Comment by Simon Mahan on November 5, 2012 6:07 pm

[…] find it very interesting that Hurricane Sandy has been predicted to affect wind turbine operation in U.S. Mid-Atlantic area actually was predicted not to do any major damage to wind turbines. One […]

Pingback by Facts About Wind Energy and Hurricane Sandy : Wind Power for Home Zone on November 8, 2012 5:17 am

Any superstorm like Irene or Sandy can leave devastation and destruction. Good news is that from the data the wind farms should be fine with some to minor damage. But it does have to raise questions for the future and how to better protect these natural energy farms.

Comment by Gas turbine maintenance on December 14, 2012 2:00 pm

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