BAY CITY, MI – Large metallic arms are reaching for the sky this week near the mouth of the Saginaw River. These are industrial cranes aboard large freighters, and they unload a shipment of blades from giant wind turbines to power Michigan’s renewable energy industry.
For nearly a decade, Bay City Aggregate along with parent company Fisher Companies has worked hard to develop Port Fisher Terminals, offering maritime, rail and road transport services. Port Fisher currently serves as the arrival site for large pieces of wind turbines heading into wind projects, particularly in the Thumb area.
“It was kind of like the Field of Dreams, you build it and they will come, and we started adding a component every year and the wind power was kind of falling right in the middle,” said Paul, sales manager. by Fisher. Strpko.
Strpko explained that friends in the wind industry as well as the location of the facility have helped chart the path the shipping terminal currently sits on.
“When they were looking for places it made perfect sense and where a lot of the wind power concentration was going to be,” he said. “Then we started to develop our site so that he could handle this.”
As of May, the state had a total of 1,149 turbines operational and the Michigan Public Services Commission is currently tracking the progress of 33 wind farm projects, according to the ThumbWind project. Neighboring counties of Huron, Gratiot and Tuscola are listed on the site as Michigan’s best wind power counties.
“When they move large components like this and have a lot of permits to move them, they like to get them as close as possible to the projects without putting them on the road infrastructure,” Strpko said.
Parent company Fisher Companies is also involved in many infrastructure projects to help get wind turbines to sites, such as improving roads and access and site roads, through works such as contracting and supply of materials for concrete.
“It’s good that there are many parts of our business that can play out,” Strpko said.
The impact of the wind power industry can be physically observed downstream of the river at the nearby Consumers Energy facility. The coal JC Weadock power station at the mouth of the Saginaw River was closed in 2016 and the last major structure was demolished with explosives on Saturday August 29 as Consumers Energy takes a step forward in renewable energy.
Neighbor’s coal and natural gas power plants Dan E. Karn Production Complex are next on the retirement list starting in 2023. The facility will be fully closed by 2031.
From docks to wind farms
Just as Port Fisher traveled a long way to get to its current location, the windmill parts and the blades they handle have also come a long way.
This year’s wind turbine blades come from Spain, China and India, according to Kevin Cotter, chief executive of Bay Aggregates. However, he noted that Port Fisher has seen blades produced domestically in recent years and transported by rail. The blades are produced by General Electric facilities around the world, Cotter said.
Shipments will take anywhere from a few weeks to over a month, depending on where they are from, to reach Port Fisher.
Shipping a wind turbine blade requires a bit of strategy and logistical planning. Fortunately, the process is simplified with the help of longshoremen or workers specializing in unloading ships. The longshoremen working on the docks at Port Fisher are from KK Integrated Logistics of Menominee. These specially trained workers supervise and manage operations such as removing the blades from the boat, storing them and loading the trucks for transport.
The influx of longshoremen every sailing season not only benefits Port Fisher and its wind turbine operations. About 40 or more employees are swelling up the workforce to help with unloading efforts.
“While this is going on, a normal year these guys spend the summer here, so quiet a few heads in bed, lots of meals, we are frequent travelers to a lot of restaurants – they feed them all, breakfast and dinner, then we feed them for lunch, ”said Paul Strpko.
Once a ship arrives at the Port Fisher facility, the longshoremen are quickly at work helping the windmill parts begin the next leg of their journey. The first task at hand is to remove the parts and blades from the ship and put them on dry land.
The longshoremen must perform a literal balancing act as part of the process. Working together, two crane operators and the crew work together to carefully remove the blade from the ships in the yard for staging. The crew load the blades into slings while the crane operators carefully lift them with surgical precision.
“They have to work in unison to bring that blade back very, very evenly, spread it out, put it on the truck, it’s really a specialist operator,” Cotter said.
The blades are moved and “put to rest” in the yard, according to Strpko, where they will be fitted with special mounts so that they can be loaded onto a semi-trailer for transport on public roads. Anderson Truck Service Special Haulers, or ATS, provides port-to-site transportation of the fishing companies as agreed to by the owners of the components.
Once they’re programmed to hit the road, the blades are sent out using a special telescoping platform that takes them slowly but steadily to their destination. For example, the blades unloaded on Wednesday September 9 were intended to be soon on their way to Isabella County for a wind farm installation. What would normally be a typical one-hour car trip from Bay to Isabella County turns into a multi-hour effort due to the slow speeds required and special designated routes.
“From there you could drive this in an hour and fifteen minutes, but to get a blade it takes over five hours because of the route they have to take,” Cotter said.
Windmills are transported in selected groups of three – the blades are built to match each other in a group of triplets.
Thereafter, the process continues to run as the next shipment arrives.
When this year’s navigation season is over, Port Fisher will see 22 ship loadings in total.