GDF SUEZ Energy North America Inc. - Cape Scott Wind Farm

A degree of energy independence is a worthwhile goal for an island, and a plateau ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 feet high at the north end of Vancouver Island promises to provide that. Its consistent winds make it an excellent location for a wind farm that will serve as a source of renewable energy for the island, and its isolated location keeps it from disturbing any human neighbors – after all, most of those living nearby are wildlife.

However, capitalizing on these advantages is proving a challenge, because what is an advantage for a wind farm can be a disadvantage for the team constructing it and transmitting its electricity. “The site is on a remote, boggy plateau overlooking the Pacific, and crossed by many small streams due to the heavy rainfall,” describes Duncan McCaig, a GDF SUEZ Energy North America Inc. project manager. “It is a very interesting, rugged terrain that varies widely from glacial till to solid rock to a thick bog.”

The more than $300 million project – which when finished will generate 99 megawatts of electricity – requires the construction of 21 miles of all-new access roads through approximately 864 acres of rough terrain and the installation of 28 bridges, 67 imbedded culverts and 500 cross-drain culverts.

A joint venture of AMEC–Black and McDonald manages the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), including civil works, foundations, transmission lines, collector facilities and erection of the turbines, under an EPC contract. Work is both self-performed and done by subcontractors.

“So it’s a very large civil works project, in addition to the installation of wind turbines,” McCaig asserts. “The biggest challenge is the scope of the civil works required to build an infrastructure for the installation of the wind turbines. Adding to the construction challenge are the remoteness, the rainfall and the commitment to minimizing environmental impacts.”

Road construction, which provided the first major challenge and lasted almost one year, began in March 2012 to upgrade 18 kilometers of existing logging road. Then new road was constructed using a solid bed of quarry rock, an overlay of gravel and an additional overlay of a finer material.

“I think generally the project benefits from the local knowledge of subcontractors and workers,” McCaig says. “For example, the contractor’s road builder has extensive experience in the region. The contractor’s environmental consultant provides guidance and works to ensure environmental compliance. Despite heavy rainfall at times, there really has not been a lot of sediment, although this is partly due to the kind of terrain, which is more rock and glacial till and much less clay.”

Site Preparation

The turbine locations have varying amounts of rock, glacial till and organic overburden. Each site was different. “It was not easy excavating to a level surface on which to place the foundation,” McCaig emphasizes. “So that was a challenge for the contractor, but they successfully managed it.”

The turbines needed spread footing foundations that were poured with concrete from a small batch plant onsite. “It’s a large blob of concrete – placed on either rock or engineered fill – and then the tower gets bolted to that blob of concrete,” Site Construction Manager Brian Arsenault explains. “The sites were either excavated or drilled and blasted depending on the combination of rock and till. Some sites had to be built up with engineered fill to get a solid surface to work on. Other sites were overlain with a fairly thick layer of organic material that had to be moved.”

“Each site was quite unique,” McCaig adds. “There was individual engineering work and individual problem-solving for each site.”

Wind Turbines

The wind turbines are supplied by Vestas Americas. Components of the 55 75-metre-tall wind turbines began to be shipped in June 2012 to the port of Nanaimo, where they were stored until the site was prepared to receive them. The trip from the port on the southeast coast of the island to the wind farm site on the northwest part of the island was approximately 250 miles.

“This was the first time these types of large components had been transported on the island highway,” McCaig points out. “It’s already quite busy with tourist and local traffic. So that was a challenge for Vestas and its transporter. You can also imagine what it looks like on the north island off the main highways – logging roads through mountainous areas over crystal-clear streams that are rather wild and pristine, forested with big cedar and hemlock trees. Bears, cougars and deer are sighted. From that standpoint, it’s been challenging to prepare the site for transporting huge pieces of equipment up onto the plateau along narrow, windy, sloped roads over narrow bridges.”

A temporary storage facility in Port Hardy – the nearest town, approximately 30 miles east of the project site and a summer tourist destination – was used as a staging area to transport the turbine components to the site. The first Vestas V100 1.8-megawatt turbine was erected March 18. The nacelles, blades and hubs of the turbines were manufactured in China, while the tower sections were produced in Vietnam.

“Because it’s a wind farm location, one of the construction challenges is the weather,” Arsenault points out. “The wind and fog can impact the erection of those cranes and stop them. That happens on occasion and is allowed for in the budgeting of the project.”

Erection of the first of the turbines – which are being located no closer than 500 meters from each other on top of the plateau – was completed in mid-March. The entire project is scheduled for completion late this year.

Getting the turbines to the wind farm site was a tremendous challenge, but they are of little use until the electricity they generate is transported to the cities that use it. Constructing that infrastructure – 25 miles of transmission lines over mountainous, forested and rocky terrain to the electrical grid with a substation at Port Hardy – proved as challenging as erecting the turbines onsite with towering cranes. BC Hydro is purchasing the electricity generated by the project under a 20-year agreement.

Contract and Oversight

The Cape Scott Wind Farm is estimated to create 250 construction jobs during its peak construction period and have $25 million worth of economic impact on the area. It also is expected to create 12 permanent positions in operations and maintenance at the facility.

The wind farm is within the portfolio of the joint venture formed by GDF SUEZ. A 40 percent interest is held by its subsidiary, GDF SUEZ Canada Inc., Mitsui and Co. Ltd. and Fiera Axium Infrastructure Canada LP, of which each hold a 30 percent interest through their affiliates.

McCaig and Arsenault are overseeing the project for the owner. “Our role is to monitor and make sure the contractor and turbine supplier are performing the work in accordance with the good practices in the contracts,” McCaig explains. “We, in turn, use the services of an owner’s engineer to assist us in reviewing the engineering done by AMEC and the construction done by Black and McDonald. They, in turn, are monitoring internally their work and their subcontractors’ work.”

Whither the Weather?

Vancouver Island does not receive as much snow as rain. “There are a lot of microclimates here,” McCaig reports. “The north island area is very mountainous and close to the Pacific, so annual rainfall varies from about 9 feet to as much as 18 feet or even more. That was the big challenge – building in an area that has so much rain. That being said, there is also some snow in the wintertime, and that did slow construction at times, but the amount of snow is relatively small compared to other parts of Canada.”

The wind farm site is on Crown land that is the ancestral home of three First Nations, the Quatsino, Tlatlasikwala and Kwakiutl communities. Some First Nations members have been working on the project, building roads, bridges and foundations for the turbines and towers. “So we have been working with the First Nations and have a very good relationship with them,” McCaig says.

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