The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 17, 2012

Trades nearly done planting Michigan’s largest wind farm

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

BRECKENRIDGE – The completion this month of Michigan’s largest wind farm puts a feather in the caps of Aristeo Construction and the building trades, while radically changing the face of the rural landscape around here. Construction was expected to wrap up in mid-February on the erection of 133 GE wind turbines, each capable of delivering 1.6 megawatts of power. The windmills are spread out on 30,000 acres in Gratiot County, about 20 miles west of Saginaw. It’s the largest wind farm in Michigan.

“It’s been an absolutely phenomenal job,” said Jimmy Morris, the project steward for Iron Workers Local 25. “We’ve got the process down; the repetition has really helped us, we’re doing the same thing over and over and we’re moving fast. As you can see, the hardest part of this job is dealing with the mud.”

The project represents Detroit Edison’s largest contract to purchase renewable energy. The utility has a 20-year agreement with Invenergy Wind to manage site operations. Invenergy is the sixth-largest wind generating company in the U.S.

Work began on planting the windmills last July, and each is no small undertaking. The pedestal of each rotor is buried 10-12-feet deep in about 375 yards of concrete.

The hollow steel towers are erected in segments, one atop the other. The base section is attached to the foundation with 140 bolts. Then as sections are added atop each other, bolts on the inside circumference of the tower are tightened down by iron workers working inside the towers.

The base of each tower to the “nacelle” – or the center of the rotor – is 328 feet. The rotor blades are 130 feet long, so when one of the three blades is pointing straight up, each windmill is a total of 458 feet tall.

The windmills have been installed in an order that allows for the efficient transportation of the cranes from place to place. The windmills are randomly located mostly on farmers’ fields, hundreds of yards apart on flat terrain – creating a jarring visual effect. The windmills are located far enough away from homes to eliminate the chance for “shadow flicker,” which has a low potential to induce seizures in sensitive individuals.

During a mild winter that has only occasionally frozen the ground, the farmers’ fields have mostly been an oozing mess, with knee-deep mud a hazard for Hardhats who step in the wrong place. “The conditions are treacherous,” Morris said.

Buried fiber optic cables will transport the wind energy to a substation, where the electricity that’s produced will be put on the grid.

After it was determined that favorable winds blew through the region, Detroit Edison spent more than two years in the permit, planning and public relations process. Landowners/farmers from all over the area had to provide permission to plant the rotors on their property.

All told, the rotors will harness 200 megawatts of wind energy in mid-Michigan.

“This contract represents a large step in Detroit Edison’s growing renewable energy portfolio,” said Steve Kurmas, Detroit Edison president and chief operating officer. “Just as important are the economic development ramifications and building the state’s renewable energy industry.”

Livonia-based Aristeo Construction managed the project, which has employed about 150 Hardhats. Aristeo now has installed, or is under contract to install, nearly 1,000 MW of wind energy facilities. The Gratiot County project is Aristeo’s first wind project in its home state.

The project will create 15 full-time local high-tech jobs servicing the turbines and working in an on-site operations and maintenance facility. According to Gratiot County estimates, the wind farm will pay more than $50 million in total taxes over the next 20 years as well as $2 million in annual lease payments to more than 240 property owners.

IRON WORKERS Greg Dilts and Chet Gorski of Local 25 set up the rigging on a tower section of one of the 133 windmills in Gratiot County. The mud was described as “treacherous.”

ARISTEO CONSTRUCTION crews of iron workers, operating engineers and laborers have been criss-crossing the farms and fields of Gratiot County the past several months, installing windmills. The 200 megawatts produced by the 133 turbines can power 54,000 homes. This project will help move Michigan towards its new standard of having 10 percent of its energy come from renewable sources.

A CREW FROM Iron Workers Local 25, Operating Engineers 324 and Laborers 1098, spread out over Gratiot County, have erected 133 windmills over the past several months, including this one. Iron Workers Local 25 members on this project include Raising Gang Foreman Justin Dalton, and Paul Tilot, Rick Dilts, Chet Gorski, Jim Morris, John Grunos, Ryan Richardson, Greg Berkobein and Chris Tilot. They’re joined here by BA Phil Vaughn. The Operating Engineers Local 324 members include Tim Ganton, Nate Tobias, Mike Manko, Vince Thompson and Business Rep. Zane Hubbard. They’re joined by laborer Chad Maschke. All are employed by Aristeo.