Massive wind turbine shipment arrives at port
The noise doesn't give you cancer and your TV won't go off when the wind stops blowing.
Wind energy is doing fine — despite what President Donald Trump would have people believe.
Wind farms are popping up throughout the country, in oil patches such as the Permian Basin in Texas, and in the ocean such as the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island, with dozens more planned. Portlanders might know them best from driving up the Gorge to eastern Klickitat County and the Columbia Hills, where the white giants stretch from the Maryhill Museum to Roosevelt.
And they keep rolling in. At the end of June, the Port of Vancouver, Washington received 198 wind turbine blades on a single ship. The hardware was part of a new generation of bigger blades that bring more turning power and thus more electricity (35% in this case) to wind farms around the world. Manufactured in Taranto, in the heel of the Italian boot, each blade is 49 meters (161 feet) long.
They were made by Danish-owned Vestas-America Wind Technology, which has its headquarters in the Pearl District. In trying to give a sense of scale, Vestas said each blade was the height of a 14 story Pearl condo building. More impressive is the fact that when they are mounted on a tower at their destination, at PacifiCorp's Marengo Wind Project near Dayton, in central Washington, each turbine will be taller, from apex to ground, than a 50-story building.
The blades are to "repower" Marengo, replacing smaller ones and increasing capacity. The utility PacifiCorp owns the wind farm.
For the Port of Vancouver it was a chance to brag about how it can handle large and oddly-shaped loads. After routinely thanking Jones Stevedoring, Transmarine and Combi Dock, and the unions ILWU Local 4, Local 40 and Local 92, Chief Commercial Officer Alex Strogen told the Business Tribune why the operation was special. First the carbon fiber blades arrive in one piece, unlike the towers which are in parts, so they have to be stacked on rubber coated steel shelving under and above deck of the ship. The need careful handling, because although they are strong enough to stay rigid when spinning, they can be scratched and dinged by chains and whatever else is lying around at the port. And third, the Port of Vancouver has acres of lay down space, meaning they can be stored there and trucked to Marengo one at a time over the next three months. (Another ship with 153 blades and 11 hubs is due in August.)
Strogen said the POV, as it's known, secured the work by keeping in touch with the turbine makers and the utilities, maintaining good relationships and pitching for work at the right time.
For Vestas it was a chance to announce new sales ahead of the federal wind energy producer tax credit being phased out in 2024. Vestas just announced three orders for its four-blade manufacturing plants in Colorado to make at least 334 turbines. The orders are believed to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Wind farms are usually owned by a utility and placed on land leased from farmers. Companies such as Vestas often have 25 year contracts to maintain the hardware, which is what is happening at Marengo in Dayton, explained Vestas spokeswoman Chante Condit-Pottol.
Raúl Bayoán Cal, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering at Portland State University, is optimistic about wind energy. He says it can survive the end of the Federal tax credit and thrive in the market, as more and more citizens and politicians agree with scientists that renewable energy is the only hope to combat man-made climate change.
"Whenever I see a turbine blade, it's pure excitement," wind energy expert Cal told the Business Tribune. He specializes in fluid mechanics and turbulence. "Electricity generation though wind energy is increasing for the whole USA. It's important to see it as part of a portfolio of renewables that includes solar and wave energy."
"It's growing rapidly, we're constantly pushing the technology, even though it looks the same. We see more and more parts being sold, and we're pushing the size of the rotors to the max." Wind power is proportional to wind speed cubed. There is plenty of wind a few hundred feet off the ground, but utilities use longitudinal weather studies to find consistently windy places.
Cal is also excited about offshore wind power. On the east coast, turbines can be anchored on the ocean floor because of shallow seas, but on the west coast the deep seas mean they must float, which is a more difficult engineering task.
There are turbines with 120-meter wingspans but Cal says the structural limit could be around 300 meters. Figuring out how big a turbine can be is a multi-discipline problem, including structural dynamics and aerodynamics.
It's an industrial issue too: "(Engineers) are always thinking 'How do we piece these together, and what about transportation?' They are very, very large. When you see one of these on a truck, it's impressive."
He added, "We need to be very aggressive in developing other technologies, and the existing technologies. Even for wind turbines, we're not done. Like any technology, one can always make it better."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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