Rockport ironworker Steven Spencer and others with his crew hammered and locked in the last bolts on an 11-story high boom for a 660-ton crawler crane behind Cruiseport Thursday morning.
When upright, the crane – 50-feet long and 20 feet above the ground, with a 170-foot boom – dominated the waterfront skyline, with giant treads resting on steel plates. Including the stacks of counterweights, the apparatus weighs about 1.3 million pounds, and without those steel plates, Spencer said, the crane would rip the pavement apart.
Then again, you need a crane that big to pull parts for a wind turbine off a barge.
Come Monday morning, a barge from Boston will steam into Gloucester Harbor, carrying the tower sections and blades for what will be the largest windmill in the northeast – a 2.5 megawatt monolith on the campus of Varian Semiconductor Associates. The blades stretch 160 feet in length, the tower will stand over 300 feet tall, and the overall structure will rise more than 400 feet above Blackburn Industrial Park, already one of the highest points in the island.
Wilmington-based Baldwin Crane will handle both the offloading and the construction of the Varian turbine. CEO Mark Baldwin, who watched the crane go up on in the early October morning, said they’ll have the turbine built and ready for a test run by Nov. 19.
Getting those parts off the barge will take a while, said Spencer.
“We’ll only be able to unload one side, then they’ll back (the barge) out to deep water and turn it around,” he said.
Baldwin’s crews, however, will take the tower sections and blades up to Great Republic Drive starting on Monday. The last truck leaves Cruiseport on Thursday. The major shipments will run at night, escorted by Gloucester and State police, starting after 6 p.m.
Five of the 14 shipments – the smaller components – will run during the day, and won’t have a police escort. Shipments will run from Cruiseport, east on Main Street, then up the lower part of Eastern Avenue to Route 128. When the trucks hit Route 128, they’ll turn at the Eastern Avenue lights and head up the highway, using the northbound lane before reaching Blackburn Circle. then they’ll turn onto Dory Road, up Blackburn Drive and then onto Great Republic Drive.
The work, said Baldwin, takes specific kinds of trailers. They’re called Schnable trailers, and they’re essentially two clamps on a battery of wheels. Each end hooks onto a turbine section and turns it into a trailer that can be raised or lowered, depending on the need. The rear of the trailer can steer independently.
Blade trailers are longer, and the route has a number of turns.
“But a lot of the sites we do are pretty tight,” Baldwin said, “we’re used to working in it.”
The Varian turbine has been in the works for a while, said Rick Johnson, Varian’s facilities manager, dating to at least 2007.
The company had the project permitted and laid out around 2007. Then the economy crashed, and the project “was dead on the vine for a while,” Johnson said.
But the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which offered a tax credit for green energy projects, put Johnson’s plans back on the table.
“That tax credit works for everyone, it keeps us here, keeps people employed and keeps us competitive around the world,” Johnson said.
The project cost Varian $8 million. Johnson expects the project will pay for itself in five years. It covers about 30 per cent of the semiconductor’s energy demands. The turbine will be ready to go, after running through a series of tests and calibrations with National Grid by February.
Parts for that turbine arrive in Boston today.
Meanwhile, behind Varian Semiconductor near the Blackburn water tower, a second Baldwin crew Thursday built a second massive crawler crane. Two men pounded away with sledge hammers, securing bolts into a 40-foot section of steel crane boom.
The crane at Varian will have a 400 foot boom, it’s a 400-ton crane, with an unreal amount of counterweight stacked onto it. The crane assembly site sits beneath the foundation for the turbine. Merrill Newman, a Gloucester resident and an Ironworker belonging to the Ironworker’s Local 7, said people will see the turbine from everywhere.
“You’re going to be able to see them from anywhere,” Merrill said, “these things are huge.”
Varian’s project won’t be the end of the wind turbines. As soon as Baldwin offloads Varian’s turbine, two barges from Portland will head into the harbor, carrying two 400-foot tall turbines for Gloucester Engineering. Construction will happen in pretty much the same time frame as Varian, said Richard Klieman, who’s representing the company that owns Gloucester Engineering, Equity Industrial Partners.
“I’m thrilled to see us moving forward,” he said.
Unlike Varian’s turbine, Gloucester Engineering’s turbines will feed all of their power into the grid, and they’ll grant the city net metering credits that will reduce the municipal electric cost. The turbines will provide almost all, if not all, of the municipal need, from the schools to the sewage treatment plant.
“I would go so far as to say we’ll be the first city to have all of its electrical needs satisfied with alternative energy,” said Mayor Carolyn Kirk. “Some small towns can make that claim, but they don’t have a sewer treatment plant.”
The project means more than just energy for Gloucester, said Kirk. She said the cranes on the waterfront, both for the Gorton’s expansion project on Rogers Street and the windmill offloading at Cruiseport, are a symbol of the city’s gaining economic strength.
“That’s a symbol of investment in the city,” Kirk said, “the cranes dotting the horizon.”
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