Motorists traveling east from Palm Springs and Indio, Calif., on I-10 into the desert have been frequently known to mutter, "There's a whole lot of nothing out here." That conversation is changing to "there's a whole lot of something going on out here."
Granite Industrial, a subsidiary of California-based Granite Construction Inc., is partnering with Rosendin Renewable Energy Group (RREG) to construct one of the largest solar projects in the state. The immense project (Athos 1 and Athos 2) covers 3,000 acres and when finished will generate enough energy to power 179,000 homes, the equivalent of all the homes in Bakersfield, Calif. The project will generate more than 2,200 gigawatt hours per year of renewable energy, enough to save 1.7 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
The desert of Riverside County is an ideal location for the project with abundant sunshine and few residents to inconvenience. Granite is leading the train of contractors who will be finalizing the installation of the 450-megawatt solar facility, which will cover nearly 5 sq. mi.
Granite Industrial subcontracted the civil scope of the project to the local Granite Construction team based in Indio to perform site grading and road construction on the project, which started with moving 170,000 cu. yds. of dirt necessary for the construction to begin and has built 55 mi. of access roads. The roads consist of 5 in. of aggregate base compacted with an 84-in. smooth drum vibratory Dynapac CA3500D roller. The roads are designed to handle the heavy equipment, which will come later.
Granite Construction also carved out of the desert temporary laydown yards where equipment is stored prior to the installation. Work crews constructed detention basins and low-water crossings to handle the occasional rains.
The heavy-duty site access roads are necessary for the construction of the solar arrays and equipment to build them, as well as providing an all-weather access for post solar construction site maintenance. In addition to the roads, Granite Industrial is installing approximately 240,000 steel posts from 11 ft. to 18 ft. in length. The posts are driven 7 ft. to 13 ft. into the ground using a fleet of Vermeer PD10 post drivers. The company's goal is to install 1,200 posts per day. The post installation began in January 2021 and is projected to be completed in December.
Dealing With Heat
The construction continued through the summer months where workers withstood the desert climate. Most daytime temperatures reached 100 degrees with occasional spikes at 110 and even hotter. Amanda Amos, construction manager of Granite Industrial, said Granite took precautions to ensure the team remained safe and healthy.
"We had about 80 workers on site each day with some 700 total from other companies," said Amos. "We provided training for our team members on how to best handle the heat. In addition, we provided cooling towels, cooling stations and plenty of water on the project. A typical day starts at 5 a.m., to get ahead of the heat, and shuts down at 3:30 p.m. On days when the heat is too intense, we halt work early to keep our people safe."
The team from Rosendin installs all the electrical components including solar modules, complete with a system of trackers and dampers on top of the steel posts installed by Granite Industrial. The project will use 1.48 million First Solar Series 6 photovoltaic modules. Rosendin is building three electrical substations to handle all the energy generated by the solar panels.
Granite Industrial has been working with Rosendin on solar projects since 2014. This is Granite's Industrial single largest project for Rosendin.
When completed, Athos 1 will have the capacity to generate up to 361 megawatts (DC) of renewable energy as early as March 2022. Athos 2 will have a 288-megawatt capacity when completed around November 2021.
"Rosendin collaborated with SB Energy on this project for over a year, and we're thrilled to be constructing the facility as the next phase of this partnership," said David Lincoln, senior vice president of Rosendin Renewable Energy Group. "The extensive design planning process ensured we could exceed system performance and long-term reliability while maximizing construction efficiencies and minimizing upfront capital expenditures."
Amos likes what she sees as the project moves swiftly toward completion. "We are pleased to be involved in a project that is helping to supply renewable energy to our state," she said. "Sustainability is one of Granite's core values, and this includes environmental stewardship."
Solar projects like this one align with Granite's strategic mission and goal of contributing to a more sustainable future. Granite has steadily grown its presence in the solar market and was recognized by Solar Power World on its 2021 Top Solar Contractors list. Granite achieved a rank of 17th out of 426 companies and a rank of 4th out of 37 for installation subcontractors. This advancement aligns with Granite's mission of sustainability, as it contributes to developing a cleaner energy future.
Rosendin's Renewable Energy Group was contracted by subsidiaries of SB Energy Holdings One, a renewable energy corporation and a subsidiary of SoftBank Group, to design and build the project. CEG
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