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 moving their turbines properly 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 port. No one transportation mode can do it all.
Trends in this area consist of caution from each company’s 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, and 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 driver 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 one truck could bring components to each turbine foundation while six more work on other projects. He also says that transportation planning is an afterthought too often. Thirty days is not enough time to plan for a project. It can take months because it’s likely to involve multiple modes to find the 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 drop that period, and thereby increase costs.
Theo Vallas, a senior account manager for CSX Railroad, says railroads are about three times more efficient than trucks for moving heavy equipment. But even railroads have challenges with clearances from the large parts. For instance, many tunnels are too small for the bulky components. A cargo width of 12.5 ft is about maximum. Some tunnels in states such as West Virginia are narrower.
Alastair Smith with the Port of Vancouver USA is a bit more optimistic saying the 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.
West Coast ports have seen a growing number of wind component imports from Asia, especially China, headed for farms in the Northwest, upper the Midwest, and Canada.
“One way to limit costs when loads are coming from Asia, is to unload them at the Port of Vancouver rather than spend another 15 days shipping them to Gulf ports,” says Smith. “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.”
As for equipment, some ports are upgrading. “For instance, Vancouver has two 140-metric ton Liebherr mobile harbor cranes,” says Smith. “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.
To accommodate larger turbine components, the port recently purchased an additional 218 acres of industrial property that includes 100 acres of storage space specifically for wind components. This property includes a rail service loop track to provide a dedicated rail line for loading wind towers. The track will increase the number of towers that can be loaded to rail cars per working shift, resulting in lower labor costs.
Filed Under: Construction, Turbines