How to Outsource Wind Logistics
As demand for renewable energy sources grows and green best practices take root, the wind energy industry keeps blowing across the United States. Regardless of whether wind turbine components are sourced globally or domestically, the demands placed on shippers and transportation and logistics service providers are extreme.
Planning, organizing, and executing wind turbine moves requires special care, attention to detail, and oversight. Wind logistics is project logistics to the core. Unwieldy cargo destined to remote and difficult-to-access locations demands partnership with a touch of grit.
As the Wind Blows…
When looking to engineer a wind logistics move—or any project logistics task—here are six considerations to keep in mind.
Moving wind turbine components requires project logistics pedigree. Shippers need to ensure their logistics and transportation service providers have experience marshalling and transporting over-dimensional and specialized cargo. Familiarity and knowledge should include qualified personnel to manage wind logistics projects—in the field and in an operations center—as well as vetted references for crane operators, dray providers, motor freight carriers, and railroads.
Shippers require specialized equipment to move over-sized turbine components via road or track—from removable gooseneck trailers for trucks to flatcars for rail. When developing project timelines and communicating with loading and unloading facilities, consideration should be given to equipment availability in specific geographic locations. Additionally, consignees must account for sufficient lead times to provide equipment at the origin location, to inspect and approve equipment upon arrival, to modify equipment as necessary, and to verify equipment ordered with loading/engineering diagrams.
Transporting wind components requires extensive planning. In general, technical drawings of how components are loaded, secured, and conveyed, and information about origin/destination points, must be submitted to permitting agencies to obtain clearance. Routes are reviewed, for example, to identify bridges that may be too narrow, overpasses too low, bridges and roadways with weight limits, and "curvy" roads that cannot safely accommodate over-dimensional loads. The planned route may include substantial out-of-route miles, which will add time and cost to the project.
Most truck permitting is state-issued, which creates challenges as states interpret and apply routing and safety guidelines differently. From a Federal perspective, each carrier and service provider must have the necessary permit and operating authority from the Department of Transportation. Local regulations also come into play as they relate to noise and nuisance ordinances, lane restrictions or closures, and the environmental impact of dunnage removal at an unloading location. By and large, motor freight requires much more permitting than rail.
Wind logistics projects typically use multiple modes—truck, rail, and barge—to take advantage of cost economies and to reach remote locations and facilities. Sometimes wind component production facilities store components in a "lay down" area (a secured yard or adjacent field) that is not proximate to a rail spur. Cranes may be required to lift components onto flatbed trailers for transport to destination, or transport to a rail loading location. These components generally cannot be warehoused in the traditional sense.
Because of the unique nature of wind components and obvious complexities, communication among all project participants is paramount. A single point of contact (POC) streamlines clearance documentation and routing instructions. A POC can also interface with various parties: origin and destination dray providers, crane operators, stevedores, rail and motor freight carriers, load and ride engineers, permitting offices, and city and local departments. This is also a consideration when authorizing work for sub-contractors, then consolidating invoices. The ability to retrieve load status information with one call to the POC is a definite advantage.