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Oversized Freight

Transporting Wind Farm Components

Unloading the Eva Creek turbine components at the Port of Anchorage; three sections of tower (like the one pictured) form the post of each wind turbine.

Unloading the Eva Creek turbine components at the Port of Anchorage; three sections of tower (like the one pictured) form the post of each wind turbine.

Photo courtesy of Golden Valley Electric Association

With several wind farm projects in the works across the state, it is clear that wind energy is gaining momentum as an increasingly popular power source in Alaska. While the state has some excellent areas that generate wind at levels necessary to make a wind farm a viable operation, these sites come with their own logistical challenges—location, location, location.

The sites for most of the wind farms in Alaska that have been built or are currently under construction are not on the main road system. This combined with the sheer size of the commercial windmill components requires a lot of planning, experience and ingenuity.

Working with Cook Inlet tides is critical for successful transport of oversized freight. Workers are offloading equipment from Cook Inlet Tug and Barge’s Double K flat deck barge on the Fire Island beach for CIRI’s wind project.

Photo by Judy Patrick/Courtesy of CIRI

Fire Island Wind Project

The Fire Island Wind Project, located just three miles west of Anchorage in Cook Inlet on CIRI’s Fire Island property, will have 11 General Electric wind turbines—each 242 feet high with three 131-foot-long wind turbine blades and a rotor diameter of 271 feet. These enormous structures aren’t expected to start generating power until this fall, but the project has already accomplished some amazing feats, and that is just getting the equipment to Fire Island.

Anderson Trucking Service Inc., or ATS, the largest heavy haul transportation firm in North America, was subcontracted by Tetra Tech Construction, the general contractor for the Fire Island Wind Project, to oversee the turbine transportation scope of the project. This encompassed everything from shipping the turbines to Alaska to ensuring they arrived at the island safely and on schedule.

The first wind turbine components arrived in Anchorage in early April from Tacoma and were offloaded at the Port of Anchorage and stored at a nearby location by Totem Ocean Trailer Express, North Star Terminal & Stevedore Co., and Carlile Transportation Systems Inc., according to Kyle Settle, project manager for Tetra Tech Construction.

Before the wind turbines would make their appearance on the island in the early part of July, landing areas on the project site had to be constructed so the barges transporting equipment, supplies and personnel could safely beach on the island. ATS relied on a lot of local knowledge and experience to tackle the logistical challenges of transporting large components and equipment to an area with no docking facilities.

With more than 70 years experience operating in upper Cook Inlet, Cook Inlet Tug and Barge was contracted by Tetra Tech Construction to perform the marine transportation for the project, with the exception of the wind turbine components. Those would be transported utilizing a specially designed articulated tug and barge (A.T.B.) by Brice Marine, a marine service company working in Alaska more than 40 years.

With no docking facilities on Fire Island, Cook Inlet Tug and Barge and Brice Marine had to rely on tidal schedules to reach the island. “You load your barge in time to ride the tide over to the island,” says Settle. “When the tide goes out, the barge is beached and ready to be unloaded and reloaded before the next tide comes in. With tides that change each day, choreographing barging operations requires patience, skill and organization.”

“It’s a tide cycle show,” says Alba Brice, vice president of Brice Companies. “A critical element to successful operations is ensuring the landings go smoothly. The actual transport of the wind turbine components three miles to Fire Island from Anchorage is not necessarily the big challenge of this operation. Coordinating the tidally affected landings and making sure everyone is ready to move on each side—the loading and the unloading—is definitely the most challenging aspect of the operation.”

Brice Marine’s A.T.B. is well suited for transporting the oversized hubs and blades of the wind turbines across the potentially treacherous Cook Inlet waters, according to Brice. Instead of the traditional tug/barge set-up that utilizes a tow wire connected to a tug boat, the A.T.B. tug is attached to the barge by large hydraulic rams on the tug that fit into receivers on the barge. This “single-vessel” configuration increases maneuverability of the tug and barge and eliminates the extra time needed to reel in tow wires.

“The A.T.B. is capable of landing, dropping its ramp, discharging its cargo, reloading and backing away from the beach ready to depart to its next destination,” says Brice.

For this project, the oversized components will be loaded onto trailers, driven onto the barge and driven off the barge for unloading once they reach the island.

“The key is being able to unload the trailers and get them back on the barge so they can go out with the next tide cycle,” adds Brice.

With only two tide cycles and unpredictable weather conditions, around the clock work schedules can easily be compromised. “Missed tide cycles mean project delays and with only three weeks to complete the transport of the components, every tide cycle counts,” says Settle.

“Cook Inlet is a severe working environment,” says Katrina Anderson, operations manager for Cook Inlet Tug and Barge Inc. “Mother Nature is always a force to be worked with. We make suggestions to our customers on how they can keep their equipment safe on unstable beaches as well as having staging areas built to accommodate landing barges safely. It’s a tricky business, but we live on the inlet and it’s a part of our day—being aware of how to work with the tides and current.”

Railcars were specially designed to transport the Eva Creek blades from the manufacturer in Arkansas. These cars went from the Union Pacific Railroad to Seattle, where they were barged to Whittier, where they came by rail to Ferry.

Photo courtesy of Golden Valley Electric Association

Eva Creek Wind Project

More than 300 miles away in Interior Alaska near a small community called Ferry, Golden Valley Electric Association’s Eva Creek Wind Project is under construction. Transporting the 12 wind turbines that comprise the wind farm would have its own unique challenges for Michels Wind Energy, the general contractor on the project.

“This project is a logistics puzzle,” says Greg Wyman, project manager for the Eva Creek Wind Farm. “The bulk of the project and planning is the logistical side—making sure the cranes and equipment as well as the personnel make it to the job site. Building the wind farm is a piece of cake. Getting the equipment there is the challenge,” adds Wyman. The wind turbines being constructed at the Eva Creek Wind Project are 262 feet high, have a 148-foot blade length and a rotor diameter of 303 feet.

One of the most challenging aspects of this project is limited access to the job site. “Because there is no road crossing over the Nenana River in Ferry, the only way to get to the wind farm is by railcar or across the four-wheeler/footbridge bridge and traveling by a vehicle that is staged on the other side,” says Wyman. “99.9 percent of our entire project has traveled the railroad.”

ATS was also contracted to oversee the transportation for the Eva Creek Wind Project. The nacelles and hubs that arrived by ship from Germany and the towers that arrived by ship from Korea were offloaded at the Port of Anchorage and transported to Healy by Carlile Transportation Systems. To not disrupt traffic flow, trucking was completed during early morning hours.

Upon arrival in Healy, the components were inspected and then loaded by two cranes onto a railcar for the 13-mile train ride to Ferry. Once in Ferry, the pieces were offloaded onto trucks by two more cranes and delivered to the project site on an access road constructed specifically for the project.

The Eva Creek blades arrived in Whittier by ship and were transferred to railcar for the journey to Ferry. Here they are pictured getting trucked up the 10-mile Ferry road to the project site.

Photo courtesy of Golden Valley Electric Association

According to Wyman, the turbine blades were manufactured in Little Rock, Ark., and transported to Seattle, Wash., by modified railcars on the Union Pacific Railroad. To accommodate the 148-foot-long blades, three railcars were connected and transformed to carry two blades each. The blades were then staged in Seattle until they made their voyage by barge to Whittier, Alaska. Once in Whittier, the cargo was brought to Anchorage to be placed on the proper unit train and from there they traveled by railcar directly to the project site.

“Michels Wind Energy has done an excellent job working with the Alaska Railroad to provide dedicated crew and shuttle train service in between their regularly scheduled trains,” says Wyman. “The railroad has been great to work with. Coordinating with them to control traffic on the tracks is critical to not only avoiding train delays since we are using the main line, but to ensure safe operations as well.”

Once completed, access to the Eva Creek Wind Project site will still be restricted to the footbridge and railcar. But GVEA Power Systems Manager, Henri Dale, is not too concerned about that. “It’s not like we are surrounded by water,” he says with a chuckle.

Paula Cottrell is a writer living in Anchorage.

This article first appeared in the August 2012 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.

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