Cutting a new
trail for wind in Illinois
Settlers Trail Wind Farm had its share of -20 degree construction
weather, but White Construction, a veteran wind farm builder, still
brought the project in on time, thanks to teamwork between construction
crews, the community, and the project developer, E.ON Climate &
In the late 1800s, American settlers used small windmills to pump water
for their farms, and some farmers later used windmills to generate
electricity in their homes.
A little over 120 years later, E.ON Climate &Renewables began
operating the 150 MW Settlers Trail Wind Farm in Watseka, Illinois,
with the help of White Construction. About the only thing these
turbines have in common with their predecessors is that they generate
energy from wind—lots of energy.
In October 2010, E.ON completed business development on Settlers Trail,
and White began construction in November. The $300 million project
required over 51 miles of underground collector system cabling, two
miles of transmission lines, 35 miles of county road upgrades, and 31
miles of permanent access roads. Not to mention, ninety-four GE
1.6-megawatt turbines on 80-meter towers.
Ron Ritter, the project manager for White Construction on the
installation, was pleased to see GE turbines had been selected. The
turbines are easy to install, and White Construction has installed over
1,000 megawatts of GE turbines to-date. "GE has listened to input from
owners and contractors and made modifications that make them very
installation friendly," says Ritter.
$300 million Settlers Trail project required over 51 miles of
underground collector system cabling, two miles of transmission lines,
35 miles of county road upgrades, 31 miles of permanent access
roads—and ninety-four GE 1.6-megawatt turbines on 80-meter
An example of the GE turbine's installation-friendliness is its
electrical system. The components come in sections. While some
manufacturers bring an entire electrical system that has to be brought
to the top of the tower and rigged from top to bottom, GE installs
pieces of their electrical system in each component of the tower. When
the sections are bolted together, it's just the inner connections that
need to be installed versus the entire tower's worth of
Because of GE's ease of installation, companies like White can save
money. "It's much more cost-effective
to build the electrical systems
in the factory," says Ritter. "If you can power wire a turbine in one
day versus three days, schedule and money all come into play."
The biggest challenge on the Settlers Trail project was building the
wind farm in the winter. Early spring delivery of the turbines meant
that enough foundations had to be installed and backfilled so that
trucks would be able to pull up to the foundation to drop off
components for the cranes to pick up.
White Construction had to get 30 foundations completed before March.
"The turbines were being delivered 10 per week, so that gave us a three
week head start to stay ahead of deliveries while we continued to put
the foundations in," says Ritter.
biggest challenge on the Settlers Trail project was carrying
construction during the winter. Early
spring delivery of the turbines
that enough foundations had to be
backfilled so that trucks would be able to pull up to the foundation to
drop off components for the cranes to pick up.
It was a struggle to make the target. There were days that temperatures
dropped to minus 20, keeping cement plants from delivering. On days
that were just "very cold", concrete needed special treatment. "The
company puts hot water in it when they batch it, so it doesn't set up
too quickly," says Ritter. "Once we get it installed, the cement has an
inherent characteristic—it generates heat—so that
helps protect it from the cold. If necessary, we insulated the concrete
after we installed it. White Construction has giant insulating blankets
that the foundations are covered with until they meet their required
When the weather did cooperate, the team went into overdrive, sometimes
installing three 275-cubic-yard foundations a day.
The substation construction schedule was also difficult to achieve,
because it too, had to be built throughout the winter. But thanks to a
diligent team, the tight deadlines were met.
Before the turbines could be delivered and installed, 33 miles of
county and township roads had to be upgraded.
On that particular project, there was one bridge that required extra
support, to increase its capacity to hold the weight of the turbines.
And several large culverts had to be replaced.
"It's one of the benefits of having a wind farm come into a
community—it helps improve the infrastructure that normally
the community wouldn't have the budget to handle," says Ritter.
Ritter says the project, despite its challenges, was one of the
smoothest installations he's done.
"This wind farm went out in corn country, and the farmers and community
members were a good bunch of people to work with, as well as the
turbine manufacturer," says Ritter. "Also, E.ON's
representatives—the owner of the project—were easy
to work with. It was a very strong team effort between the contractor
and the community and the developer. You never keep everyone happy, but
to the greatest extent possible, this project achieved that."
Matt Tulis, communications manager for E.ON, agrees it was a good group
to work with.
"We had some key land owners that were proponents of the project, and
they helped us get other landowners on board. And county officials were
really helpful to bring the project together."
Although the project came in on time, White Construction is even more
proud of the project's safety record. Not only were there no lost-time
accidents, there were no recordable accidents either.
While the Settlers Trail facility was under construction, the labor
force was sizable. There were 80 to 100 workers handling
and foundation construction. The erection crew number ran between 60
and 80, and when the electricians arrived, there were up to 300 people
"We worked a lot of man hours, drove a lot of project miles, and sent
everybody home in good condition with a pretty nice paycheck," says
Bringing this size workforce into a rural town gives it a welcome
boost, especially helpful during a down economy.
Most of the workforce on Settlers Trail was local labor so the project
brought in a huge influx of wages. Also the staff that was brought into
the area rented houses, leased hotel rooms, and rented cars, which was
a large infusion of money into the local community.
During the project, other businesses were also getting more
traffic—from the local hardware store to the local
restaurants. Now that the Settlers Trail project construction is
completed, about a dozen individuals remain as permanent employees to
operate and maintain the wind farm.
labor force was sizable on the Settlers Trail project. There were
100 workers handling road upgrades and
foundation construction. The
erection crew number ran between 60 and 80, and when the electricians
arrived, there were up to 300 people on site.
White Construction tries to go the
extra mile to be a good neighbor to the communities they work in. For
example, during construction, White had a ten-acre laydown yard and a
four-acre turbine component staging area, both of which were graveled.
There were office trailers, wells, septic systems and electrical
systems, and T1 lines—all the infrastructure required for a
commercial office complex.
"When we were done, we picked up all the gravel and removed all of the
utility infrastructure, took the fences down, and spread the topsoil
back over the property. We also gave a lot of the gravel back to the
community," says Ritter.
What is extra special about the Settlers Trail project for E.ON, the
fifth largest wind company in the U.S. and a company that has 13
sizable wind projects prior to this one? It's the location. "Our
corporate headquarters are located in Chicago, so we're happy to have
our first project in Illinois operating," says Tulis,
It's hard to say for sure, but the original settlers of the area would
likely be amazed by the size of the wind farm at Settlers Trail, but
they wouldn't be surprised at the labor and teamwork that went into it.
As both Ritter and Tulis attest to, it takes a lot of old-fashioned
hard work to get a wind farm up and generating electricity.