PAXTON — A 400-foot wind turbine east of Paxton that was discovered to be leaning at an angle early Wednesday morning suddenly collapsed Thursday evening, crashing to the ground in what neighbors said sounded like a rumble of thunder. No injuries or damage to surrounding properties were reported.
The turbine, located just south of Illinois 9 and east of County Road 2300 East between Paxton and Clarence in southeastern Ford County, is part of the 94-turbine, 150-megawatt Pioneer Trail Wind Farm, which is owned and operated by Austin, Texas-based RWE Renewables Americas LLC.
It was discovered to be leaning when RWE site workers arrived around 6:45 a.m. Wednesday at the wind farm, RWE communications manager Matt Tulis said, and was on the ground not even 36 hours later.
The collapse happened sometime between 5:25 and 5:45 p.m. Thursday, according to neighbor Brandon Wyatt, who posted before-and-after images on Facebook to document the event, including a video taken at 5:25 p.m. showing the still-leaning turbine and its generator pivoting back and forth, followed by a photo of the collapsed turbine 20 minutes later.
“Sounded like thunder when it came down,” Wyatt wrote.
On Friday morning, the 1.6-megawatt GE turbine remained on the ground, with barricades and an RWE vehicle blocking access to the site. Surrounding turbines were still spinning.
When asked late Friday morning when the turbine would be removed or replaced, Tulis could provide no details but said it should be soon.
“We are assessing the site, now that the turbine is down, and are preparing our recovery plan,” Tulis said in an email. “We’re still working out the details but expect to start recovery soon.”
Tulis said this is the first time this issue has happened in an RWE-owned wind farm. The company operates about 35 wind farms nationwide, with an estimated 3,000 turbines in all, Tulis said.
“This is a rare incident for us,” Tulis said. “We haven’t seen this on any of our other projects, either in the Midwest or around the country, so it’s pretty unusual.”
The investigation continues into “the root cause” of what happened, Tulis said. The National Weather Service had received reports of wind gusts exceeding 30 mph throughout the area overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.
“We’ve got our engineering teams and the site guys looking into what happened, but it’s still early in the process to try to figure out what’s going on out there,” Tulis said Wednesday. “ … Something happened overnight while nobody was actually there. All that’s part of the investigation, where they’re looking at if they can see when it went offline and work backwards and try to figure out what happened.”
The turbine was immediately taken offline Wednesday after it was discovered to be tilted. While its blades were spinning Thursday prior to its collapse, the turbine was not on and producing energy, Tulis noted.
“At this point, there is no danger to any private structures, public roads, transmission lines or any other infrastructure out there,” Tulis said Wednesday.
The Pioneer Trail Wind Farm was the first built in Ford County, which today has three. It was owned and operated by E.On Climate & Renewables North America until 2019, when the firm merged with RWE.
When the wind farm began operation in October 2011, E.On Climate & Renewables North America estimated that it would generate $29 million in property tax revenue for local taxing bodies over its 25-year life span, including $1.2 million annually for the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district, and distribute more than $50 million in lease and royalty payments to landowners.