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Palouse Wind Farm First for Washington State Area

Thu November 15, 2012 - West Edition
Mary Reed

It’s another first for Boston-based independent wind energy provider First Wind, given its wind farm project in Whitman County is its first in Washington State.

The Palouse wind facility will be the first renewable energy provider in the county, supplying enough power for 30,000 homes or the equivalent of Whitman County’s total energy load.

“We have handled many jobs like the Palouse Wind site for First Wind, most of which have been in New England or Hawaii,” said Paul Judkins, project manager of general contractor RMT Inc., of Madison, Wis. “We know First Wind well and have a strong history working with them.”

Construction on the Palouse wind project began in November 2011; the project has an expected completion date of November 2012.

The Palouse wind project calls for installation of 58 Vestas’ V100-1.8 mW turbines between Oakesdale and state Route 195. The turbine towers consist of three tube sections, a nacelle (power generator), and a hub with blades. First Wind and Vestas have contracted with a firm that employs various large trucks and low boy trailers to transport these items.

The project kicked off with building access roads and upgrading local and county roads. Next came excavation work and installation of rebar reinforcement and anchor bolt cages, covered with concrete to provide a foundation for the turbines, and installation of underground and overhead cable to carry power from the turbines to a central substation. An operation and maintenance building and site substation to collect power and transmit it to an Avista switching station a few mi. from the site have been constructed.

The job features unique aspects involving the specialty pieces of equipment used for various activities.

For this project, Judkins said, “The most obvious of these are the large cranes (200 to 700 ton [181.4 to 635 t]), and the large forklifts (10,000 to 12,000 lbs. [4,536 to 5,443 kg]) involved. There also are the large and heavy trenchers used to trench and install underground cabling and the sheer number of manlifts used for various functions, including electrical overhead pole and cable installation.

“A Manitowoc 18000 crane is the largest piece of equipment on site,” he continued. “A Manitowoc 2250 is the other track crane, and we have several Grove 90 ton hydraulic cranes. Many bulldozers, graders, water trucks, several 12000 forklifts, 10 to 15 concrete trucks, 10 to 12 dump trucks/belly dumps, and about 70 to 90 pickup trucks are also involved.”

Cranes are used for a majority of the work, varying in size from smaller hydraulic cranes (60 to 75 tons [54.4 to 68 t]) used for the transfer of rebar and anchor bolts, to midsize hydraulic cranes (90 to 120 tons [81.6 to 108.9 t]) used for offloading the various turbine components, to large track cranes for the actual erection of turbine components. Two cranes are used for this purpose, a 300 to 400 ton (272.2 to 362.9 t) crane for erecting the lower sections and a 600 to 700 ton (544.3 to 635 t) crane for erecting the upper section, which usually tops out at more than 300 ft. (91.4 m). Several forklifts are in use, moving support pieces and dunnage as well as smaller turbine components from site to site.

The civil work involved approximately 100 employees working on site. Peak activity during turbine erection will see about 250 at work, around 75 of those direct RMT Inc. employees. The company is using subcontractors to build the access roads, carry out foundation work, build the substation and operation and management building, and install underground and overhead electrical collection systems.

At present, the civil work is beginning to wind down, with the electrical scopes of work (substation, underground and overhead collection systems, and the overhead transmission line) all going strong. The operation and maintenance building is working toward completion and the turbine delivery and erection process is fully under way.

Construction of the Palouse wind project will mean expenditures of roughly $30 million in the local area. Once the facility is operational, the county’s property tax revenues will increase by about $700,000 annually for the next two decades.

Founded as an engineering consultancy more than 35 years ago, the sole business of RMT Inc., is the engineering and construction of clean energy facilities, providing clients with services from the permit stage to connection to the grid.

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