Is there anything to say in favour of these things?
In the 20 years or so since they’ve spun into heavily subsidised ‘action’, the wind industry’s has managed to clock up a fairly sizeable death count: running at over 160 (so far), which includes 4 killed (pilot and passengers) when a light plane slammed into a turbine in foggy conditions in South Dakota in April 2014.
Ag Pilots – the dare-devils that duck and weave across paddocks to spray crops – are an essential part of modern agriculture. They run plenty of necessary risks, but that posed by an intermittent, heavily subsidised, weather dependent power source is wholly unnecessary; and shouldn’t be one of them.
The risks posed don’t just include 290 tonne, 160m high whirling wonders, but also include the MET masts that precede and then form part of operating wind farms, as the following story from Minnesota makes tragically real.
Pilot Killed While Spraying Crops In Southwest Minnesota
19 August 2016
A crop-spraying job ended in tragedy amid wind turbine country in southwest Minnesota.
The plane nose-dived into a soybean field west of Ruthton Friday morning after striking a cable. Investigators say the pilot, 68-year-old James Arnt of Worthington, died instantly.
A bent electrical tower high above this bean field is a telltale sign of tragedy in southwest Minnesota.
“It’s a sad situation, I guess,” farmer Ben Kremer said.
The plane likely struck a wire attached to the tower which monitors wind conditions for nearby turbines. The plane crashed some 500 feet east of the tower.
“We had a lot of responders up there and it’s traumatic for everybody that has to deal with that, not to mention the families involved and everything, but it’s a shock to everybody,” Pipestone County Sheriff Keith Vreeman said.
The farm families who rent the land where the plane went down are also shaken by the crash.
“You never like to hear about that stuff, but it happens, they know the risks, so but yeah, it’s never good,” Kremer said.
Farmers in the area have been dealing with aphids eating up their soybean crop, so sprayers play an important role in preserving their fields for the fall harvest.
“They can take quite a bit of your crop away if you don’t spray them,” farmer Phil Kramer said.
“It’s an important job because they’ve got to get the aphids off the beans and that’s the only way they can do it. It looks to be a dangerous profession,” Vreeman said.
After the plane struck the wire, the cable wrapped around power lines, prompting Xcel to temporarily shut off power to the wind turbines. While crews repair the damage, federal investigators will work to piece together what led up to the crash that claimed the life of a veteran pilot, once honored by the FAA for his safe flying record.
According to his Facebook page, James Arnt first started flying back in 1970.
The sheriff says weather conditions at the time of the crash were cloudy.
This isn’t the first pilot killed in a tangle with the wind industry (and it won’t be the last). Here’s one we covered 2 years ago involving a MET mast erected by a wind power outfit in California.
Ag Plane Crash Leads to $6.7 Million Wrongful Death Verdict
25 September 2014
When Steve Allen, a highly respected Northern California ag pilot with 26,000 accident free hours, crashed his Rockwell S-2R into a whisper-thin, barely visible galvanized steel wind observation tower on January 11, 2011, a dark and sickening secret about personal greed and avarice was exposed for all the world to see.
The $6.7 million wrongful death settlement the aviator’s family was awarded this month will hopefully help ensure other similar tragedies won’t happen in the future.
The tower, measuring just inches under 200 feet, was hastily erected in 2009 by wind energy interests “prospecting” for the perfect site for a new wind farm in Contra Costa County east of San Francisco. The odd height of the tower is central to the case — any tower under 200 feet doesn’t need to be lighted or reported to the FAA. But because these towers can pop up almost anywhere and are nearly impossible to see in flight, they pose a special danger to aerial application aircraft.
Allen, 58, was spreading winter wheat for a local farm when he flew his single-engine turboprop into the unlit, unmarked tower. According to the National Transportation Safety Board accident report, the pilot was never told about its existence and never saw it.
The meteorological evaluation towers, known as METs and equipped with small anemometers, have been cropping up all across the country as investors seek to cash in on the wind energy craze. By keeping them just below 200 feet, wind farm entrepreneurs save the money, time and hassle of registering them with the FAA — while putting ag pilot’s lives at risk.
“No amount of money is ever going to compensate the Allen family for the loss of Mr. Allen,” said Roger Dreyer, the family’s lawyer. “He was an exceptional pilot, father and husband. We can only hope that those individuals in the wind industry, agricultural field and those who manufacture and install these MET towers understand that their failure to mark them adequately with lights and obstruction warning devices puts aviators, like Mr. Allen, at risk of losing their lives when there is absolutely no reason for taking that risk.”