Shepherding a massivewind project to completion
Building the 845 MW Shepherds Flat
wind project—one of the largest wind projects on the
planet—involved a tremendous amount of teamwork from developer
Caithness Energy, contractor Blattner Energy, and their group of
suppliers and subcontractors.
Exactly how does a contractor go about planning construction of one of
the largest wind power projects on the planet?
First off, you roll up your sleeves and do one heck of a lot of
planning, says Ludlow (Lud) Howe, project manager for Blattner Energy,
the Balance of Plant contractor on the massive 845 MW Shepherds Flat
wind project recently completed in Oregon for independent power
producer Caithness Energy.
"We first assembled a team with electrical engineers and estimators,
and the estimators broke out the project into the various
disciplines—civil, electrical, and the erection portion,"
"Once the estimators had worked out a preliminary estimate and how they
thought the job was going to go, we looked at it from an operations
standpoint and worked out exactly how we were going to build it."
This was a process to which they dedicated a good amount of time, he
"It took us, I don't doubt, a solid three months. We were meeting every
day in the Blattner Energy corporate office in Minnesota, talking about
the details of Shepherds Flat and determining how we were going to
approach a job that was possibly going to take three years to build. We
just knew it would take dedicated collaboration between Blattner,
Caithness, and all members of the project team."
The sheer scale of the $2 billion project was what distinguished it
from smaller wind projects that might take, at most, a year to
Shepherds Flat is a true mega project, with a total of 338 GE 2.5 MW
turbines. At 845 MW, it is the second largest wind farm in the world.
Only the 1,020 MW Alta Wind Energy Center in California, also
constructed by Blattner Energy, is larger. Shepherds Flat covers 30
square miles in two counties in the Columbia River Gorge area of north
central Oregon. This area, which has been developed with a number of
other wind farms, has a good, robust wind resource, with wind speeds up
to 6.7 m/sec.
Blattner Energy put together a seasoned project team for Shepherds
Flat, drawing upon its experience of more than 18,000 MWs of wind power
installed in the U.S.
Appointed project manager, Lud Howe has overseen a number of wind power
projects in the Pacific Northwest for Blattner and installed about
1,000 turbines for the company, working out of their regional office in
While every wind farm project, regardless of size, has numerous details
that need to be covered, this is even more so for a project the size of
Shepherds Flat, explained Howe.
Essentially, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. "And
there are thousands and thousands of details," he says.
Howe says that even though they spent three months planning, there were
some aspects to the job that still required fleshing out once the
Blattner knew they needed a large labor force—which peaked at 600
workers—but it was still a challenge to find accommodation in, or
near, the town of Arlington, Oregon.
The project was done in three phases, though it was not necessarily 100
percent sequential—workers and equipment were often moving around
from one phase to another.
"There was a lot of reasoning behind the approach to build the project
in three phases," says Howe. "The power purchase agreements that the
project owner (CaithnessEnergy) had called for certain milestones to be
met in certain areas, and the PPA's drove, in part, the three-phase
approach." There were the north, central, and south phases.
Construction of the Shepherds
Flat Wind project involved some impressive numbers. Some 95 miles of
access road had to be built, and 338 wind turbine foundations were
poured, requiring 150,000 cubic yards of concrete.
"But what was going on in any phase depended on a number of factors,"
he added. "At a point in time, we were doing turbine erections in the
north and central phases and building foundations in the south, and it
could be switched around."
The very first project, though, was an upgrade of a Bonneville Power
Administration substation, to handle the increased power. They also
built a transmission line from one of the project's substations to the
In some areas, environmental considerations drove the construction
schedule. In the northern area of the site, just off the Columbia
River, there is a curlew population, and they have a nesting season
from August to December. "Curlews are a protected species, so we could
not work at all during that time period. So we'd build as much as we
could of infrastructure in the north, and then we'd have to shift
construction down to the central area, and when restrictions were
lifted in the north, we'd go back up there."
Since Shepherds Flat was a multi-year project, the same restrictions
applied the next year. "At that point, we were quite far along in the
north but not finished. We already had the wiring in and the
foundations built, but we couldn't erect in that area for three months,
so we moved to another phase of the project. And we could do that
because we were only about 50 percent done in the central area and 20
percent done in the south.
"There were also nesting grounds for hawks. Because the land mass for
the project was so big, there were a lot of little pockets that we had
to work around at certain times of year. And it wasn't just a matter of
a couple of weeks, it was three months."
All of this, however, was known upfront and included in the planning
process. Howe added that Blattner Energy takes pride in minimizing the
impact of any project it works on, in terms of the environment.
"It really was a well thought-out and planned job, and it had to
be—we were moving people and equipment back and forth from one
phase to another, and we had to maximize their productivity."
Howe likened the approach they took to moving a military operation,
with people and material going back and forth, as required. Two large
office complexes and laydown areas were established to accommodate not
only Blattner personnel, but staff from the owner, Caithness Energy,
turbine supplier GE, and subcontractors.
At the peak of construction, Howe estimated there were about 30
construction cranes on site. "We would have had nine big
cranes—500 to 600 ton cranes—and upwards of 20 mid and
smaller cranes, everything from 30 ton units to 130 ton cranes."
There were further impressive numbers. They built 95 miles of access
road and poured 338 wind turbine foundations, requiring some 150,000
cubic yards of concrete. They used a local concrete supplier from
Arlington. "But at any point in time, there were probably four or five
trucks coming from Portland, to keep their silos filled with cement."
A concrete batch plant was built off site and another on site. "As we
moved on the project, they moved with us," said Howe. They excavated,
drilled, and shot their own gravel on site, with royalties paid to the
landowners. They dug two wells for water for the concrete and utilized
an existing well one of the landowners already had in place.
Because they were moving from one phase to another, this required some
extra planning on the roadbuilding side. "You'd think that you might be
able to do 20 or 30 miles of road because of where you were working,
but moving around, you might have to move and open up another 20 miles
of road. And you have to have water trucks to help build the road and
keep the dust down." He said they likely had about 26 water trucks on
site at the peak.
Despite the large site, there were only five landowners on the project.
"We were very conscious of working closely with them," said Howe. "We
have built several other projects in the Columbia Gorge area, so we
either knew the landowners, or knew of them, and we met with them a
number of times before starting the project.
"We showed them what we were doing and how we were going to do it and
asked what their concerns were and how we might work around their
concerns." Requests were minor for the most part and included moving a
road 50 or 100 feet so the landowners could more efficiently farm an
They also worked closely with Gilliam and Morrow counties, where the
project is located. "We met with officials from the counties to discuss
what we were doing and component deliveries. We knew what we were doing
would involve some road repairs, so we planned for that." The delivery
routes were well planned out, as well, since loaded trucks could not
deal with road slopes greater than 10 percent.
GE Energy brought most of the blades to a nearby rail yard, and they
were trucked in from there. The project is the first wind farm in the
U.S. to use GE Energy's 2.5xl wind turbines, which are larger than its
other models and use permanent magnet generators and turbine technology
that improves efficiency, reliability, and grid connection, helping to
lower wind energy costs, says the company. The 2.5xl wind turbines for
the Shepherds Flat wind farm were assembled at GE's site in Pensacola,
Florida. In addition to supplying the wind turbines, GE is also
providing operational and maintenance services to the project.
There was a total of 162 miles of collection wiring, about 22 miles of
overhead collection, and another 140 miles of underground collection.
That went into three different substations and a three-mile 500 kV line
to link into the BPA system and its huge substation.
|Caithness Energy was the lead developer of
the project, and one of the partners in Shepherds Flat is Internet
giant Google. At $100 million, Shepherds Flat is the largest investment
Google has made in renewable energy.
As mentioned, Caithness Energy was the lead developer of the project.
Partners in the project include GE Energy Financial Services, Tyr
Energy (a unit of Japanese company ITOCHU), Sumitomo Corporation, and
interestingly, search engine giant Google. Google invested $100 million
in the project. Shepherds Flat is the largest investment made by Google
in renewable energy.
The U.S. Department of Energy issued a partial loan guarantee of $1.3
billion for the project as part of the Recovery Act.
Electricity generated by the project is being sold to utility company
Southern California Edison, through a 20-year purchase agreement. The
project will help the company meet a 33 percent renewable energy by
Besides Blattner Energy, there were a number of other contractors
involved with the project. RosendinElectric of San Jose, California,
was the electrical contractor. GL Garrad Hassan provided engineering,
technical, and construction management services. Other services
included technical assessment of the project area, installation of
equipment, and construction.
Mott MacDonald provided technical and financial analysis and assisted
in achieving financial closure for the project.
DawsManufacturing supplied heat exchangers for the turbines. Hot-dip
galvanizing was used by Daws to protect the heat exchangers from
corrosion. Pacific Coastal Steel provided steel reinforcements for the
The 338 turbines are equipped with Winergy 2.5 MW high performance
gearboxes and couplings. Winergy, of Elgin, Illinois, supplied its
compact and high efficient PZFB 3494 gearbox combined with its ARPEX
Howe reports that keeping everyone from the owners' representatives to
subcontractors to suppliers in the know and on track required a very
disciplined approach to sharing information.
The Blattner team utilized a methodical communication process to ensure
this requirement was met. It began every day at 6:00 a.m. with a
meeting for all the foremen and the subs, going over what was done the
previous day, what the plan was for the current day, and what the plan
would be for the next day.
A general safety meeting followed at 7:00 a.m. "Then, at 8:00 a.m.,
we'd have another meeting with the owners and suppliers to coordinate
what we discussed at the earlier meetings," said Howe.
Even with all the planning and coordinating in the world, building such
a large wind project involves good old-fashioned hard work. There was
plenty of that. "We regularly worked 60 hours a week to deliver the
project on time—this is especially important for Blattner as we
have never missed a COD. Our experience in modifying work shifts to
handle weather delays and schedule changes allowed us to ensure the
project milestones were met.
"We have a lot of experience working in this area of Oregon, so we knew
what the bad months were for construction and what we needed to do to
counteract that. Progress was monitored very closely, and if we started
getting a bit behind, we had a couple of alternative plans that we
could go to, which would bring us back to where we needed to be."
That said, they still ran into some unpredictable bad weather with high
winds, when the crane lifts were few and far between. "The wind started
blowing, and it never seemed to stop," said Howe. "It would blow for a
week and then might stop for a day. Then it blew for another five days
and might have stopped for a night. You can plan all you want, but you
can't plan for that kind of weather."
Howe credits the strong teams on the project—on the part of
Blattner and its construction partners, including its subcontractor,
RosendinElectric, to the suppliers and owners—for pulling
together and getting the job done within the prescribed deadlines. Howe
also noted there was a great sense of pride in that. "With a project
like this, there are going to be some trying times, but it really was a
great project to work on."
At the completion of the project, there was some celebrating and, of
course, an official opening with the usual mix of politicians. After
three years on a very demanding construction job, many people involved
in actually building the project just headed home, anxious to spend
time with their families, says Howe. A common parting comment was, "See
you on the next big one."