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By Henry A. Barrios / THE CALIFORNIAN
BY GRETCHEN WENNER, Californian staff writer email@example.com
A runaway windmill in Tehachapi closed Highway 58 — a major east-west freeway connecting California's southern Central Valley to Las Vegas, Nevada and Arizona — for most of the day Sunday.
Around 11 p.m. the highway was reopened, although it remained unclear whether the windmill had been stopped, according to Officer Ed Smith of the California Highway Patrol.
Wind turbines are subject to catastrophic failure when their brakes fail, allowing blades to spin uncontrollably. The resulting vibrations can cause them to explode, spewing propeller blades and debris hundreds of yards, as a YouTube video of an incident in Denmark last year shows.
Large turbines, like some in Tehachapi's wind farm, can boast wingspans as wide as a jumbo jet.
The faulty unit was built in the 1980s and is much smaller than giant ones made today, said Meghan Dotter, spokeswoman for AES Corp., a global power company with North American offices in Virginia, which owns the 90-kilowatt windmill.
The turbine's brakes failed when winds exceeded 50 m.p.h., Dotter said in an e-mail.
The California Highway Patrol shut Highway 58 "in an abundance of caution," she wrote, "because the wind turbine was visible from the road."
The unit sits about 1,500 yards from the freeway.
"AES is monitoring the site regularly and will stop the turbine once the wind subsides," Dotter wrote.
Jim Dudley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford, said strong gusts were expected in the Tehachapi Pass area until 8 p.m. or so
After dropping off overnight, winds will likely pick up again Monday afternoon.
The runaway windmill was reported to the California Highway Patrol around 11:40 a.m.
A 43-mile stretch of Highway 58, from Mojave to Tower Line Road outside Bakersfield, was closed initially. Travel between Bakersfield and Tehachapi resumed in the early evening.
Some traffic in Tehachapi was diverted because the windmill's blades could potentially become powerful projectiles.
Scanner chatter indicated the CHP told Burlington Northern officials about the windmill but allowed railroad officials to decide their own course of action.
The malfunctioning unit is on the south side of 58, near Sand Canyon. The highway there cuts through picturesque mountain scenery.
The Tehachapi Pass wind farm is one of the world's largest. The pass connects the southern Sierra Nevada to the Tehachapi Mountains.
Elsewhere on the Web:
Watch a video of a collapsing windmill in Denmark on YouTube.