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Transformer fire causes spill in Sherman County

A transformer caught fire at the base of a Bigelow Canyon wind turbine over the weekend, spilling an estimated 600 gallons of transformer oil.

A representative of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) spills unit reported that PGE, the owner of the wind farm, reported the fire and hired SMF Environmental to clean up the spill. DEQ asked for a spill report identifying what happened, what actions were taken to clean up the site and to restore it to its pre-spill condition. No waterways were affected.

The transformer “over-pressurized, released oil and caught fire,” said Dale Coyle, Bigelow Canyon site manager. “When we got here it was at a slow burn.”

Witnesses the evening of the event saw flames “boiling out” from the bottom of the wind tower. Winds were calm and the fire did not spread.

While transformer failures like this one are not uncommon in the energy industry, happening more often in urban areas, Coyle said this was the first transformer fire among PGE’s 217 Sherman County wind turbines since Bigelow Canyon opened in 2007.

Transformers are used throughout power transmission and distribution systems, Coyle explained, and each wind turbine has its own transformer.

“We actually monitor our transformers,” Coyle said, “where in distribution systems they typically don’t.” The 600 gallons of oil spilled was the full capacity of the burned transformer unit, which was near the corner of Oehman and Helms Creek roads.

Coyle said the wind tower itself didn’t appear to be damaged, but that an inspection and metallurgic examination had been called for.

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