Texas Wind Farm Back Online

By Russell Gold Features Dow Jones Newswires

For the first time in the history of the burgeoning U.S. wind industry, a wind farm got hit by a hurricane -- and it was back producing power within days.

Continue Reading Below

Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of more than 130 miles an hour last Friday about 20 miles from the Papalote Creek Wind Farm near Corpus Christi, Texas.

One section of the onshore wind farm was producing electricity on Thursday and the other is expected to be back online on Friday, according to its owner, German power company E.ON SE.

"Papalote actually survived really well," said Patrick Woodson, chairman of E.ON's North American operations. The delay in restarting was mostly because the power lines were damaged, he said.

Weather gauges suggest the wind farm didn't take the brunt of the storm: they recorded sustained winds of 90 miles an hour, or the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The wind farm has total of 196 turbines and can generate 380 megawatts, making it a fairly large power generator. The turbines were made by Vestas Wind Systems A/S and Siemens AG.

Continue Reading Below

The storm was the first major test of how U.S. wind power installations, which now provide roughly 6% of the nation's electricity, hold up in hurricane-force winds.

Justin Sharp, a consultant and chairman of the American Meteorological Society's renewable energy committee, said he wasn't surprised the wind farm survived. The turbines are designed to shut down and feather their blades when the wind gets too strong.

He said turbines would probably begin to fail when winds reached 140 miles an hour, with blades detaching and smashing into nearby towers. At those speeds, Mr. Sharp said, "all bets are off."

A Category 4 storm, super typhoon Usagi, hit a Chinese wind farm in 2013 and did extensive damage.

Whether a wind farm can survive a hurricane isn't a mere academic question. More wind farms are being built close to coastlines and offshore, where wind speeds tend to be strongest.

Mr. Sharp said he calculated that a wind farm build right on the Texas coast would have a 15% chance of facing a hurricane in a 20-year lifespan.

"What we learned from Harvey is that the design being used right now and the operating rules work very well," said Julie Lundquist, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. For a milder hurricane, this is a "success story."

She was the co-author of a recent study that found offshore wind farms would likely not be able to withstand a direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest. She and a student are now working to determine what the probability of an offshore wind farm facing such a storm would be.

The first offshore wind farm in the U.S. went into operation earlier this year off the coast of Rhode Island, but there has been significant offshore development in Europe's North Sea.

Write to Russell Gold at russell.gold@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 01, 2017 15:43 ET (19:43 GMT)