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How to have a million-dollar car accident

A wind turbine blade passed me going the other direction on the highway the other day, followed by another one. If you’ve never seen these things in real life, you’re missing out. Hundreds of feet long, the blades are sculpted and architectural and really make you feel like you’re looking at The Future.

As it turns out, they’re also extremely hard to move around. According to the Times, each turbine can cost upwards of $150,000 to transport to its installation site. They’re prone to causing traffic snarls and getting stuck in tight corners. The heavy truck traffic can tear up rural roads.

And then there are the accidents. A few weeks ago a train hit a semi carrying a 120,000-lb wind tower. All three were totaled. The wreck caused millions of dollars in damages. Although not a common occurrence, this is hardly the first accident involving wind turbines. Such problems are likely to increase. Even in this terrible economy, wind development is absolutely exploding.

So developers are getting creative. Trains may be part of the answer (at least when they’re not smashing into towers). General Electric estimates trains are 50% cheaper than trucks over long-haul distances.

A more ingenious solution is simply to manufacture the turbines at the installation site. Clipper Windpower is planning a mammoth 5,000-megawatt wind farm in South Dakota, comprised of over 2,000 turbines. Enough, the company thinks, to possibly justify setting up a manufacturing facility on-site:

> “The project is of a size that you can start to think about dedicated manufacturing for that project,” Peter Stricker, the vice president for strategic project development at Clipper, said.

> One option would be a “gypsy plant” to turn out turbine parts temporarily. Mr. Stricker said that it could be either an “industrial tent structure,” or mounted on a flat-bed. Another possibility would be a more permanent factory.

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