The problem with moving wind-turbine components is their size–they are gigantic. Nacelles can measure 12-ft wide and over 20-ft long, while half of a tower can be 12-ft wide and almost 150-ft long. And blades–conversation stoppers on most highways–easily span 100 ft. Moving these structures takes special equipment, trucks, trains, ships, and harbors. Siemens is so serious about properly moving their turbines it uses custom railcars. At least one trucking company spokesperson warns turbine OEMs about building a “boat in the basement,” a turbine so big there is no way to move it out of a manufacturing area or port. No one transportation mode can do it all and so will depend on trucks, rails, and ships. Trends in this area consist of caution from each industry perspective.
For instance, Doug Miller, VP operations Lone Star Transportation LLC, says custom rigs for moving nacelles and towers may cost up to $425,000, renting for about $1,000 a day. Furthermore, a trucking company can spend $13 million on specialty equipment. “To make matters worse, there is a shortage of qualified drivers,” says Miller. “Most are about 55 years old and few drivers are moving up in the ranks because the life style of an over-the-road driver is difficult.”
In an ideal world, he adds, a railroad will bring turbine components to within about six miles of a wind farm. Then only one truck would be needed to bring components to each turbine foundation. He adds that transportation planning too often seems an afterthought to logistic managers.
Things could get worse because over the last few years, a 1.5-MW wind turbine has been a prevalent size on U.S. roads and wind farms. It is about the largest and heaviest that transports easily on most roads. But turbine design is trending to larger units, hence, 2.5 and 3-MW units will soon be more frequently encountered. These will be challenges for transport and construction companies because each state has different rules, and approved routes change as frequently as the wind. This is potentially bad news for wind-farm developers that expect to stay on construction schedules. Hence, wind project developers must consider transportation early in making wind farm siting decisions.
Transporting these will take more than 30 days to plan for project transports, says those who do such planning. It can take months because it’s likely to involve multiple modes to find a lowest cost.
Pending Federal regulations are also likely to take a toll on trucking by limiting the amount of time a driver can work. Current regulations say a driver can spend 10 hours/day behind the wheel, but those under consideration will reduce that period, and thereby increase costs.
An account manager for CSX Railroad says railroads are about three times more efficient than trucks for moving heavy equipment, but even they have challenges with clearances from the large parts. For instance, many tunnels are too small for the bulky wind components. A cargo width of 12.5 ft is about maximum. Some tunnels in states such as West Virginia are narrower.
Alstair Smith, Director of Marketing Operations for the Port of Vancouver, Washington, is a bit more optimistic because his facility has made investments to ensure it has the appropriate on-dock equipment, sufficient land for storage and staging, a trained labor force and logistics teams, as well as a rail head for four railroads capable of moving wind-energy cargo.
To handle large wind parts, the Washington port added two 140-metric ton Liebherr mobile harbor cranes. When used in tandem, these can lift up to 280 metric tons. The port’s heavy-lift capability makes it possible to lift increasingly heavy and large nacelles from the offshore side of a vessel, saving time and eliminating the expense of turning the vessel. This creates greater efficiencies and reduces OEM costs. In addition, the port has allocated 70 acres just for wind energy. It takes about one acre to park about six towers (24 sections) with room between to effectively move trucks and trailers.
West Coast ports have seen a growing number of wind component imports from Asia, especially China, headed to farms in the Northwest, upper the Midwest, and Canada.
One way to limit costs when loads are coming from Asia, suggests Smith, is to unload them at the Port of Vancouver rather than spend another 15 days shipping them to U.S. ports on the Gulf of Mexico. Add the cost of charter rates for vessels per day to the cost of fuel and developers can save nearly $600,000 in transportation fees by using the West Coast port.
A few OEMs are also taking matters into their own hands. For instance, Siemens Energy along with state and local public officials, and a host of community leaders, have opened a 64,000-ft2 wind service distribution center in Oklahoma–for them, the center of wind country. The new facility is said to underscore the firm’s commitment to providing increased efficiency to its wind power customers throughout the region. With its geographic location in the heart of the wind belt, the company says the facility will allow for reduced delivery times and greater parts availability as the company follows through on its strategic focus.
The wind service center will store and distribute main components and spare parts, including wind turbine blades, drive assemblies and generators, as well as tooling operations. The warehousing operation opened with 14 employees. WPE
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