Wind Power Setting the World on Fire: Infigen Sparks Devastating NSW Bushfire

capital-fire-2

On 17 January 2017, wind farm operator Infigen sparked a blaze that ripped across the southern Tablelands of NSW and destroyed 3,400 hectares (8,400 acres), hundreds of sheep and cattle, sheds and at least one home.

STT’s operatives in NSW have been on the scene, collecting photographs and speaking with local landowners about the cause and consequences of the blaze, which we detail below.

Bushfires in Australia are a feature of our hot, dry summers; an ever present and deadly threat to lives, limb and property. Every summer, nervous farming and rural communities fix their collective gaze on the horizon, looking for tell-tale signs of the smoke that heralds the mortal threat of a bushfire.

Rules are set to avoid bushfires on high fire danger days – when a Total Fire Ban is called prohibitions apply, such as this one that appears on the NSW Rural Fire Service website:

You cannot light, maintain or use a fire in the open, or to carry out any activity in the open that causes, or is likely to cause, a fire. No general purpose hot works such as using tractors, slashers and/or welding, grinding or gas cutting can be done in the open either, and this includes incinerators and barbecues which burn solid fuel, eg. wood or charcoal.

Farmers engaged in crop harvesting operations think twice about operating harvesters when the northerly winds pick up and sends temperatures into the 40s – the safety conscious leave their headers parked in the shed or the corner of the paddock and spend the day in front of the A/C enjoying the cricket on TV – ready to respond in a heartbeat to the call if a fire does break out. Better to miss a day’s reaping than set the country ablaze.

On 17 January, a total fire ban was in place in NSW, covering the area to the north, east and west of Canberra. It reached a top of 39C in the region, with wind gusts of about 50 km/h – what farmers will, in their usual understated manner, refer to as “a bad day”.

Wind turbines are just another ignition source that adds to the anxiety experienced in rural Australia on “bad days”, like 17 January 2017. In Australia, wind turbines have so far been responsible for at least four serious bushfires:

  • Ten Mile Lagoon in Western Australia in the mid-1990s;
  • Lake Bonney, Millicent (SA) in January 2006;
  • Cathedral Rocks Wind Farm, Port Lincoln (SA) in February 2009; and
  • Starfish Hill (SA) in November 2010 (see this link for more detail).

For more on wind turbine initiated bushfires in Australia, see our posts here and here.

On what are known as “very bad days” (temperatures above 42C with howling northerlies) wind farm operators will not run their turbines for fear that they will overheat and spark a monstrous conflagration. No doubt, the thought of losing a $3 million turbine to self-immolation is a motivating factor, too – as in this Texan meltdown:

Texas turbine fire 02

As noted above, on days declared a ‘total fire ban’, you cannot ‘carry out any activity in the open that causes, or is likely to cause, a fire. No general purpose hot works such as using tractors, slashers and/or welding, grinding or gas cutting can be done in the open either’.

Engaging in any such activity is risky business. Under the NSW Legislation there are substantial penalties “for a fire that escapes and damages or destroys life, property or the environment can attract much greater fines and gaol terms with maximums at $132,000 and/or 14 years gaol.” And, as the RFS website notes:

Civil law suits can also be brought against the person responsible for a fire by those seeking compensation for losses sustained.

Indeed they can, and in this case they most certainly will be pursued against Infigen, for all the losses sustained.

A neighbouring property owner who suffers losses caused by bushfire will claim on their own property insurance for the loss of crops, pasture, sheds, dwellings, vehicles, equipment and livestock. If that property owner did not cause the bushfire, their insurer will satisfy the claim. However, that insurer will seek to recover what it has paid out under their policy from whoever it was that was responsible for the bushfire that caused their customer’s losses: what’s called a “recovery action” – the insurer steps into the shoes of their insured and recovers what has been paid out under the policy from a negligent wrongdoer.

In this instance, with multiple claims from multiple property holders, all suffering very substantial losses, the amount sought to be recovered by insurers paying out on claims from neighbours will be in the tens of millions of dollars.

The terms of property insurance policies are one of the reasons why farmers refrain from harvesting crops on total fire ban days and generally avoid the kinds of activities in the open that cause, or are likely to cause, a bushfire.

If a property owner starts a fire on their property, and that fire escapes and causes losses to their neighbour, the property owner may still be covered under their insurance policy for the losses caused to their neighbour.

However, they will not be covered on a total fire ban day if the activity they have engaged in is an activity which is prohibited under state fire ban regulations.

In short, if a farmer is harvesting or welding or using an angle grinder outside on a total fire ban day and a bushfire starts, he will be personally liable for the financial losses caused to his neighbours, as his insurer will deny cover under a term that excludes operation of the policy in those circumstances.

Now, back to Infigen, its Capital wind farm and the Currandooley fire.

The fire broke out just before 10am on ‘Currandooley’, a property owned by the Osborne family and operated by Harry Osborne, where the Osbornes host 10, 2.1MW Suzlon S88 turbines, which are part of Infigen’s 67 turbine Capital wind farm, located to the north-east of Canberra.

The fire, initially called the Tarago fire, was renamed the Currandooley fire. 

A helpful reverse chronology of news reports about the fire appears in articles published by the Goulburn Post and The Land.

Before the fire was controlled on Thursday it had destroyed a home, burnt out 3,400 hectares (8,400 acres), destroyed hundreds of sheep and cattle, sheds and farm equipment. This image from the Rural Fire Service (RFS), shows the extent of the fire on Wednesday afternoon.

capital-fire

The ignition point for the fire was located at the base of one of Infigen’s turbines at the Capital wind farm. Here’s a satellite image of the location of the turbines and the extent of the fire: the turbines are all situated within the red box and the black line depicts the path of the fire, running with the wind prevailing that day, west to east:

extent

The RFS fire extent map above shows Lake George to the west, Tarago to the north and Mount Fairy to the South. The red boxed area is enlarged in the image below:

origin-of-fire-enlargement

STT operatives from NSW went to the burnt out area and confirmed, as depicted in a series of photos below (taken looking south-west), that the ignition point is situated adjacent to a turbine at the Capital wind farm.

Note that turbines always face into the wind – here they are facing west (into the wind) and note the burnt out area to the east (selecting these images will allow you to see them in more detail).

edge-of-fire

look-at-turbines-and-wind-direction

grass-fire-starts-at-base-of-turbine

On this occasion, we can’t pin the fire directly on a wind turbine. However, STT’s operatives have visited the site and obtained detailed statements from neighbours who are unequivocal.

The fire was started by maintenance workers employed or contracted by Infigen. Between 9am and 10am on 17 January, workers were engaged in the maintenance of the turbine depicted in the right foreground of the picture above.

A grass fire broke out just before 10am, and in the hot and blustery conditions, it didn’t take long to turn into a serious disaster and mortal threat.

As to the ignition source, local farmers believe that the workers were operating welding or grinding equipment at the time, although one suggestion was that their vehicle may have started it.

It would be unheard of for a wind farm contractor or employee to travel onto dry grassland in anything other than diesel powered vehicles, which, obvious defects aside, do not pose a fire risk.

Fires are often caused by the super-heated catalytic converters of modern petrol powered vehicles, so it would be wilful negligence to turn up on a wind farm site in a petrol powered vehicle during summer; and particularly so on a total fire ban day. Which leaves the operation of a grinder or welder as the most likely ignition source. In either event, Infigen will not be covered under its insurance policy (see above).

Whatever they did to spark the blaze, the workers responsible didn’t hang around; they quickly packed up shop and bolted.

capital-fire

Australia’s Infigen sets the world on fire.

***

True to form, Infigen, no doubt terrified of where the buck stops, started running media interference almost instantly.

Over at wind cult central, the ABC quickly ran a story (no doubt fed to them by Infigen) that a crow colliding with a high-voltage power line was the cause of the fire.

One of our NSW’s operatives, who is in regular contact with firefighters from the Rural Fire Service put that story to one of the RFS officers involved in fighting the fire. The response was gales of laughter. Not only is the idea that a crow can start a bushfire by whacking into a power line risible, the ignition point is pretty obvious (see above) and is nowhere near a powerline of any description.

Harry Osborne, in response to Infigen’s crow claim, reckoned it would more credible if they had tried to finger the blame on a pelican or a stork, something big enough to splatter itself across several lines and create an arc.

Infigen were not, apparently, content to leave it to their mates at the ABC to exculpate them.

After the fire died down, an entourage of Infigen’s senior managers turned up at a number of burnt out neighbouring properties in a deliberate attempt to deflect their liability.

The owner of one of these properties – who does not wish be named because he is obtaining legal advice – became furious with Infigen’s delegation as they attempted to whitewash the cause of the fire.

The farmer in question told Infigen’s boys that he “hoped they had bloody good insurance?”. They then claimed that the fire had nothing to do with Infigen and ran the crow story. He said, “if it was a crow and nothing to do with Infigen, then what the bloody hell are you doing here?”. One of Infigen’s boys responded that they were there “because Infigen are good corporate citizens”. To which the farmer responded that their crow story was a complete bloody joke and that Infigen better have bloody good insurance. He then ordered them off the property and they cut a hasty retreat, as all good corporate citizens tend to do.

Harry Osborne, the farmer whose family own Currandooley where the fire started made no bones about it, telling one of STT’s operatives that: “Infigen started it”.

In the massive civil claims against Infigen and in the criminal prosecutions that are bound to follow, no doubt, Harry will make a very reliable witness. Oh, and as for Infigen getting cover from its insurer to indemnify it from all those multi-million dollar civil claims, as the Americans say to the brave and foolhardy: ‘well, good luck with that!’

capital-fire-sheep

Counting the cost: a few of Infigen’s innocent victims…

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Noel Dean says:

    In regards to Peter’s commentJan 31 that the developer put liability back on the farmer, I would suggest that the liability may well be on the lawyers acting for the Planning Department, Council and the host farmer because the permit for the Waubra Wind Farm requires that the sound pressure level to be measured within 10m of the dwelling, and that the predicted be accepted as level of sound pressure to be experienced.

    The fact of the matter is that the noise monitoring plan is not to the required method in IEC61400-12 on the basis that the required equivalent continuous sound pressure level was not measured against the predicted equivalent continuous sound pressure level which was the basis of the contract, without this information there is no evidence to base action against the host farmer.

    The Pyrenees Council and the Planning Department are responsible for the failure of this evidence to be provided and this evidence is required to be made available by Marshall Day but sadly the Marshall Day People have not understood the wording of the relevant noise standard used, and failed to present the required information to determine the continuous sound pressure level at any given time, and the three requirements of condition 14 at the Waubra Wind Farm, in our case the sound pressure level was not even measured at our property, there have been a steady stream of lies, deception and dirty tricks to cover up this failure involving, Council, the Planning Department the Wind Farm Commissioner and the developer at Waubra going back to 2004 when the developer said at a general public meeting at Waubra the the sound from the turbines were high frequency sound and not harmful to humans.

    The problem is that the change in air pressure from rotating turbines changed the experienced sound into a pulsing pattern which in turn results in low frequency pulsing of high sound frequencies which is known to be harmful , the failure to measure this changed sound, is the cause of our complaint not being investigated as required in the issued permit (condition 15 is to address any alleged breaches permit) this investigation can NOT be done without measurement of the Equivalent continuous sound pressure level (LAeq).

    So it appears to me that there may be a Big Dog fight between the lawyers in regards to who is responsible for complete failure of the acoustic work being done in some instances ,and done correctly in other instances, I personally do not believe that the host farmers are responsible, but that this is the responsibility of the regulators as I also believe if the measurements were done correctly, the predictions in the pre-construction report were made available, the 50 turbines to be in low noise mode would not have been allowed, and that the 50 or so bigger turbines would also have not been allowed.

    It was known that the predicted levels would not been able to be met, and this has been identified in the noise monitoring plan authored by the developer, and only made available after our complaint was made, all this information is required before any lawyer could be satisfied a host and his or her family would not be adversely affected by operating turbines, because the sound pressure level measurement has not been collected in the monitoring plan, it is still not known if the hosts are being subjected to sound levels over and above of that predicted or not, as the predictions were done used LAeq but the monitoring was being done using LA95 meaning that the sound level exceeds the limit for 95% of the time, to me this is a dreadful act of CHEATING, and potentially very harmful.

    Noel

  2. The Goulburn Post has a couple of articles on 2 Feb with 16 photos – linked here –
    Birds igniting on powerlines near wind turbines
    http://www.warwickhughes.com/blog/?p=4973

    I am puzzled we are not already well aware of elongate clusters of fires along powerlines all across our wide brown land.

  3. Ive seen wind farm contracts that put the liability of this type of thing back on the farmer. The Waubra windfarm definitely has a clause that puts the liability on the farmer. The ill fated Tuki windfarm also had this clause that the morons signed up to. And I believe Bald Hills would have the same given the developers.

  4. Thanks Anthony Gardner – I would appreciate your screenshot –
    Warwick Hughes – wshblog2013@warwickhughes.com
    I have a view on the crow story here
    http://www.warwickhughes.com/blog/?p=4945

  5. Hi,

    I started a PETITION “SA PREMIER JAY WEATHERILL : Demand the RESIGNATION of the Energy Minister for HIGH POWER PRICES CAUSING SA’s JOBS CRISIS and 15,000 household POWER DISCONNECTIONS, frequent POWER BLACKOUTS and the JULY 2016 POWER CRISIS” and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name.

    Our goal is to reach 200 signatures and we need more support.

    You can read more and sign the petition here:

    https://www.change.org/p/sa-premier-jay-weatherill-demand-the-resignation-of-the-energy-minister-for-high-power-prices-causing-sa-s-jobs-crisis-and-also-15-000-household-power-disconnections-frequent-power-blackouts-and-the-july-2016-power-crisis?recruiter=135406845&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

    Please share this petition with anyone you think may be interested in signing it.

    Thankyou for your time.

  6. So… what’s the carbon footprint of all this, the fire, the firefighting, the replanting, the rebuilding?

    Concerned citizens want to know.

  7. Modern diesels run particulate filters (DPFs) which occasionally regenerate by having fuel injected into the exhaust via an injection pulse during the exhaust stroke. These regen cycles are to burn off the trapped soot particles and cause extremely high underbonnet temperatures.

    So it is conceivable that a diesel engined vehicle started the fire. Even if true, though, it does not remove liability from Infigen being the employer of the maintenance team and owners of the wind turbines.

  8. I have been saying for some time that wind turbine fires are bound to cause wider destruction but did not realise what was happening in Australia until I read this. According to CWIF’s data http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/AccidentStatistics.htm fire is the most common incident after blade throw but we can only log what is reported to us so if readers could please contact me via the website with media reports of fire, or any other incidents, it helps to make our global data more comprehensive. The data is updated quarterly so the numerous incidents of fire, blade throw, tower collapse and ice throw reported already this year will not appear until later.
    We need verifiable data to convince governments and the industry that wind turbines are not safe and incidents are not, as they like to tell us, ‘rare’ .

  9. Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    “Saving The Planet” Update …

  10. Pamela Maddock says:

    So its ok for them or their equipment to cause mass destruction, with no compensation?

  11. Uncle Fester says:

    I lost some 30 acres in this fire and it got to within 50m of my house. No stock losses, just a few fences that now have D-10 sized holes in them. Nothing but praise for the RFS. However, I’m unsure whether the fire retardant that was dropped on my house by the DC-10 is benign, now that it has been washed into my rainwater tank and swimming pool. Correspondence for the RFS tomorrow I guess.

    • Apparently your potable water is now at risk of algeal outbreak, and your pool, assuming it is chlorinated is exuding volatile gasses. Id be asking for a coronial enquiry if I were you

    • Hello,

      Could you please contact Maddens Lawyers on (03) 5560 2000 or kae@maddenslawyers.com.au. We’d like to discuss your bushfire losses in further detail.

      Thanks,

  12. Jackie Rovensky says:

    The disaster that occurred in NSW happened on the same day a fire broke out near Waterloo in the Mid North of SA at around 2pm as the temperature rose to above 40C with concerning wind changes due in the early evening.
    This fire was not given a great deal of news coverage, very little actually.
    However, this fire apparently started a little distance from Waterloo, but being in scrub and grass land with gusty winds picking up it ‘raced up the western side of a steep hill leading to the wind farm..’ The Advertiser 18.1.17).
    Quoting from The Advertiser:
    An Energy Australia statement issued in the evening said:
    “The northern end of our wind arm was impacted by bushfire; there was no danger at any time to our people, all are safe and accounted for.”
    Presumable then they had people working there at the time.
    “At this time we don’t believe there has been any damage to our equipment and expect normal operation to resume when the Country Fire Service advise it is safe to do so.”
    So there was a possibility the fire was intense enough to maybe damage their equipment – presumably the turbines and their internal ‘organs’, and/or the blades. But we have not been informed of the outcome of inspection after the fire – was there any damage?

    Some turbines were turned off, but not all during the fire. Reports varied as to how many fire fighters were involved the ABC stated 140, while the Advertiser had it down as 200.
    What received only a little coverage was the use of fire aerial bombers flying through turbines. The advertiser did have a photograph though.
    The Waterloo site is a line of turbines rather than ‘bunches’ of them, a question arises – would it have been possible to fly through ‘bunches’ of turbines?.
    As it was there was apparently a helicopter hovering above the flight path of the planes guiding them through the turbines ensuring a safe passage.
    The smoke was not thick so vision was possible but getting too close to the towers was an ever present danger. Without the presence of the helicopter flights may not have been possible, thus the fire could have caused more damage and travelled further.
    However, there was another danger when using the planes, as turbines had not been turned off – what would have happened if there had been a wake of air pressure suddenly coming from the operating turbines that moved across unseen/unknown the flight of a plane as it passed between the turbines. Shouldn’t they have been turned off also.
    Fires are an ever present danger in our rural regions the very regions these things are installed in. The companies constantly spout about how safe they are and that fires are no problem, that they have their own fire fighting teams – well where were they during these fires – off course they were fighting the fires with their regular CFS/RFS teams. The companies may have a small tanker of water but they do not have teams of dedicated fire fighters ready to defend their property. If they had why did the workers in NSW disappear when the fire started – why didn’t they stand and fight it with the equipment the company has on hand?
    As is very clear the NSW fire started in the project, and was more than likely caused by negligence of the company in allowing workers to perform dangerous duties during a Fire Danger period.
    As with the fire at Waterloo, if it did start further away it certainly didn’t take long to engulf parts of the projects.
    That the fire in SA was ‘played down’, is concerning what else has been kept quiet, what other dangers have been hidden from us. This also goes for ALL projects what haven’t we been told, what have they kept quiet about and what have they ‘explained’ away as not being anything to do with them?

  13. Reblogged this on UPPER SONACHAN WIND FARM.

  14. Ross King says:

    In my hunting days in S.Alberta, we left our vehicle as directed by our host(s) (maybe at the end of a track) and walked-in to hunt. During dry spells (typical in late October, early November) we were often absolutely banned from bringing our vehicle off the road and on to the property. Indeed, some owners barred us altogether at the farm gate lest there be *any* additional fire hazard on their property for whatever cause.
    Beats me why these Oz farmers don’t follow the same obvious, common-sense rules. (Maybe to harvest the insurance claims??)

    • Jackie Rovensky says:

      A bit ingenuous, if the fire was started by a vehicle owned and driven by one of the Infigen workers the farmer has no chance of preventing them from entering the property as the company has the right of entry due to planning permission and payment to the property owner to erect turbines. Surely its up to the companies to take all care possible – they should never have allowed welding or any other machinery onto the site on such a day and all there vehicles should be diesel to prevent accidents happening – ‘its a case of we do what we want when we want and be buggered to the rest of you’.

  15. Well finally some truth. Infigen, Suzlon you know who I am and I believe you need to visit us at your earliest convenience. We need to talk…

  16. william gray says:

    I think Infigen didn’t bother coming to my property because they know my strong feelings re this disaster (just 2 k’s away) and would have copped an earfull. I had around 20 acres of excellent pasture and native remnant bushland and many hundreds of meters of fencing destroyed and if it wasn’t for the magnificent efforts of the RFS my house would in no way have been spared. I know many others had a similar experience.

    Woe betide Infigen when the forensics find against them as the lame excuse of a ‘burning crow’ is truly an insult- the pictures speak for themselves. My original submission (along with many others) re inextinguishable turbines fires presages further disasters. I think next time we may not be so lucky.

  17. Anthony Gardner says:

    I’ll believe the crow story when the RFS publishes the transcript of the 000 call and explains the first graphic it put up showing the fire start position right next to a turbine. I have the screenshot and will send it to you if you give me an email address.

    • Please forward it to your local Federal Member for Hume, Angus Taylor: Angus.Taylor.MP@aph.gov.au

      Along with a link to our post. Thanks.

    • Bronte Davies says:

      Hi Jeremy, I would love that screenshot. Please send it to me on 0414359060. I have some pictures also.
      Cheers,
      Bronte

    • The 000 call didnt come from near the fire at curandooly. It was my neighbour (we live over 5kms away up Mount Fairy Road) that called it in at around 9.45/9.50am. She called me first. Why nobody called it in living up Taylors Creek Road I do not know. It was big and must have been burning for quite some time prior to us noticing it. The Taylors Creek RFS were attending the fire before the 000 call was made. They would know more.

    • Hello Anthony,

      Could you please contact Maddens Lawyers on (03) 5560 2000 or kae@maddenslawyers.com.au.

      • Bronte Davies says:

        To all the farmers affected by the fire, please contact me on 0414359060 with regard to Blaze Aid. There is help out there, and they are setting up camp in Bungendore in the next few days. All affected farmers will need support – not just with fencing and cleaning up, but moral support too. A lot of the Blaze Aid volunteers have had their livelihoods destroyed by fire too.
        Please contact me to register.
        Cheers,
        Bronte

  18. The smoking gun that morning was clearly in the hand of infigen, and the fact that they left the scene to return after with a pre organized story should be punished severely. I am an ex captain of our local brigade and this is the equivalent of an 8 year old telling his parents a huge lie to save his skin.. the fine now for lying should equal the damages….

  19. Well what do you? They’re environmentally unfriendly.

  20. Same thing down here Aringa north of Port Fairy. Started a fire in long grass round one of their test towers. Running power off the battery in a ute in long grass around the tower. Was 2 dollar development company so all the farmers on Fingerboard Road who lost fences and other property got nothing. The company quickly on sold to another development company to avoid their liability.

    • Jackie Rovensky says:

      It’s time the Federal Government stopped these 2 dollar companies from being able to even think about making a project proposal – each company should have enough money and insurance behind it to ensure any compensation at any point in a projects pre-preparation and existence as well as costs of dismantling, safely disposing off and regenerating the land can be achieved even if they go broke, and if they sell it on then the purchaser takes over the necessary insurance backup and ensure they take over a project with no outstanding claims or possible claims.
      Why should innocent people be left with huge costs created by these companies and their towers of doom and destruction.

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