Aussie-first haul was long, tough but successful
IT COULD have been a logistical nightmare, a multi-day move involving dozens of individual truck movements, large, heavy and odd-sized loads, escort vehicles, an army of workers and long running distances in summertime desert heat were all a recipe for disaster.
Instead, when it was all over, this Australian-first exercise involving the movement of multiple wind generators broken-down to their basic component pieces was declared a massive success.
The elaborate plan, formulated and carried-out by Penrith, NSW, transport company Rex J Andrews with assistance from Western Australian transport company West Coast Trucking, involved moving five separate wind turbines from Geraldton, on the state's mid-west coast, to a remote site near Leinster in the Northern Goldfields region, to help power one of Australia's biggest gold mines.
That meant moving 15 69-metre-long blades, five nacelle bodies, generators and hubs and the towers needed to hold them, each one in five separate sections with a combined weight of almost 400 tonnes and measuring 115 metres high and five metres wide.
The move, comprising eight different truck and trailer combinations carrying 78 individual loads a distance of 650 kilometres over a two-and-a-half week period and covering almost 51,000 combined kilometres, was no cake walk, requiring expert vehicle co-ordination and exacting time management.
For this complex operation Rex J Andrews and West Coast assembled a mix of Volvo FH16s running 700 horsepower engines, 650 horsepower Kenworth K-Series and 650 horsepower Mercedes-Benz Actros 2763 prime movers as well as a clutch of Mack Titans and Superliners, variously running 585 and 650 horsepower engines, all with hub reduction gearing and all running turntable combinations.
They towed an array of specialised trailers - two triple-extendable blade trailers with steering, steerable 11x8, 10x8 and 8x8 platforms and three low-loaders, a 5x8, a 2x8 - 4x8 and a 2x4 - 4x4 to manage the cumbersome loads.
The entire operation was carried-out in a series of daytime runs encompassing a complicated series of movements resembling a truck version of tag on the long, straight Western Australian outback roads.
That meant some long days for the road crews. The trucks carrying the blades each took around 10 hours for each run while those carrying the tower sections took some 16 hours or one-and-a-half days on the road.
West Coast Trucking, a relatively small family-owned and run company, runs a modest 10-truck fleet but is nevertheless regarded as one of Western Australia's leading heavy haulage specialists.
Its online publicity boasts that, rather than shying away from "huge, over-dimensional loads" that might cause nightmares for some hauliers, it gets excited at the prospect. It must have been absolutely cock-a-hoop with this job because nothing about the Agnew Mine wind turbine haul was simple.
Planning for it started in late 2018 and settled into a protracted 18-month series of discussions involving Western Australia's roads and traffic authorities, police, local councils and utility suppliers. The end result? A substantial road book finalised before the first truck was ready to receive its load in Geraldton.
The final plan called for an impressive number of extra vehicles and personnel with a support vehicle, back-up prime mover, a traffic escort vehicle, 16 company pilots and three licensed pilots.
The eight individual truck and trailer combinations were equally impressive, the two smallest measuring 26 metres each overall, the biggest some 77 metres. The lightest tipped the scales at a modest 63.5 tonnes loaded, the heaviest 178.5 tonnes. Total gross weight of the eight-truck convoy was 1010.5 tonnes and, parked nose-to-tail, measured 331 metres in length.
Even the arrival of the blades in the Western Australian port city in late November, aboard the Dutch cargo ship Danzigergracht, was not without its issues.
The city's Mid-West Ports Authority needed to build a new hardstand on the dock for the trucks to collect the blades and tower assemblies and the unloading process had its own complications, the ship needing to be turned around in port so it could be safely unloaded from either side.
Getting each component piece craned onto its trailer from the ship took some two hours and, not surprisingly, the number of individual hauls involved in the total operation meant just getting the load from ship to trailer and from trailer to construction site ensured the loading and unloading process itself was equivalent to several days.
The massive operation had the first trucks, travelling in convoy to ensure minimal traffic disruption, leaving Geraldton early on Monday, November 25.
Tasked with having the whole operation completed in four weeks and the road component completed in three, the last truck rolled onto the site on Monday, December 16.
The only problems of note were completely outside human control and came in the form of tides and weather. Geraldton's tidal swells moved the ship around while the trucks were being loaded and there were minor delays at the drop site caused by lightning and strong winds.
James Harman, spokesman for Brisbane-based EDL Energy, the company charged with building the project, said transporting the wind generator components to the site was a complex logistical exercise.
He told ABC News that a "very detailed plan" involving "special machinery (and) special trucks that can handle the turbines and the blades," had been put in place for the haul.
Describing the move as "quite an engineering feat", Mr Harman added: "It's been done in other places around the world but this is a first for a mine site in Australia."
The wind turbines are expected to be commissioned mid-year. When they come on stream they will ensure that as much as 60 per cent of Agnew's electricity will be sourced from renewables.
Once completed, the $112 million electricity generator will use a combination of solar, wind, gas and diesel electricity generation, making it the first Australian mine site to use wind generation and effectively take the Agnew mine off the state's power.
While this is a first for the region it might not be the last. Stuart Mathews is tipping that, with access to the power grid often impossible in the state's more remote regions and diesel power generation expensive, more mining companies will start incorporating renewables into their energy mix.