A wind farm might be the last place you expect to be concerned about strong winds, but at the Mehoopany wind farm in Noxen Township, they are taking Hurricane Sandy seriously.
Crews at the BP wind farm project worked frantically Saturday to tie down loose equipment and windmill components, as area power generators and utilities braced for impact from the hurricane.
Once windmills have been anchored and erected they can withstand hurricane force winds, according to Michael J. Kelly, safety lead for the wind farm project.
But only 27 of the 88 windmills planned for the site have been erected, and the 140,000 pound carbon fiber turbine blades awaiting installation can be lifted by strong winds, Kelly said.
“The actual design of it is like a kite and it conducts the wind very well,” Kelly said. “In a gust of 45, 50 miles per hour wind it could be lifted easily.”
To prevent that, workers on Saturday removed the blades from the backs of tractor trailers and fastened them to large concrete anchors.
Crews will be working through Monday morning, as long as conditions permit, to secure equipment and backfill trenches to protect underground utilities in case of flooding from mountain runoff or Bowman’s Creek.
Kelly said the wind farm is maintaining regular contact with National Weather Service and Wyoming County Emergency Management Agency officials to determine how long workers can safely stay at the construction site.
“We will work up to the point where it’s safe for our workers; and, when it’s no longer safe, we’ll evacuate the mountain,” Kelly said.
Project supervisors will then ride out the storm at a command center in a Wilkes-Barre hotel, and return to the site when the storm has passed.
“We will come back when it’s safe and assess any damage and continue to build or start to rebuild,” Kelly said. “We’re praying it makes some kind of a turn at the last minute so we can keep going.”
Joe Scopelliti, spokesman for PPL’s nuclear power plant in Salem Township, said the plant is not altering its operations because of the storm, but plant personnel are monitoring storm conditions and maintaining contact with local officials about road closures and other potential storm impacts.
“The storm itself isn’t going to put the plant in an emergency,” Scopelliti said. “The structure’s not going to be affected by the winds or the rain, but the outside world could be affected. If the outside world is affected and the plant did need to enter our emergency plan, then we want our people to be aware of the conditions outside.”
One of the plant’s two reactors is currently down for maintenance, but the other will continue to run through the storm, Scopelliti said.
Two independent power sources provide electricity to the reactors. If both fail the reactor will shut down automatically and backup power systems will start automatically to power cooling and other safety systems. The plant has five diesel generators on site that are tested monthly, only three of which are needed to power safety measures. The plant has battery power backups should the generators fail, Scopelliti said.
Local utilities are also making preparations to respond to power lines downed by the storm.
PPL spokesman Rich Beasley said PPL Electric Utilities has recruited an additional 1,500 contractors, including line crews, tree crews and damage assessors to respond to storm damages, effectively tripling the utility’s usual workforce.
But he also urged area residents to prepare for power outages by stocking up on food, water and batteries, and to use flashlights instead of candles to mitigate the risk of fire.
“If the storm is severe, even with our best preparations customers should realize they could experience power interruptions” Beasley said. “We ask that they take the necessary steps to prepare for these outages.”
UGI Utilities said it has secured contractors and workers from Wisconsin to assist in power restoration, bringing its field workforce to 150, double the usual number.