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The pivotal role of ports

Once a shipment of wind components arrives at a port, the land, equipment and infrastructure the port can offer to developers is crucial in controlling time and costs, says Alastair Smith

Storage space: Turbine blades at Port of Vancouver
Storage space: Turbine blades at Port of Vancouver
As wind turbine manufacturers seek faster, more cost-effective routes to inland wind farm projects, ports that can offer the right on-dock equipment, efficient labour and logistics teams, and smooth rail links will find themselves in pole position.

In Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, the Port of Vancouver is the number one US importer of wind energy products, according to the country's Census Bureau.

For several years, the port has worked with the industry to monitor trends in wind energy imports and invest in appropriate land, transportation and equipment strategies.
 
Land and equipment key

Wind energy imports require considerable land for secure storage and staging. Components cannot be stacked and the heavy equipment that lifts and repositions them also requires space, as do the specialised trucks involved. If, as some forecast, the wind industry sees significant growth, land will be one of the most important assets ports can offer.

The Port of Vancouver has planned for more than 650 acres to cater for industry growth, guaranteeing land availability within its long-term contracts.

The port has purchased 218 acres of industrial land adjacent to the existing port, including a new dual-loop track serving Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railways, capable of handling unit trains of wind energy equipment.

The land inside the loop will offer an extra 100 acres of storage space, enough for 700 towers at a time.

Heavy, oversized components also require the right equipment and the port has invested in two Liebherr 500S mobile harbour cranes.

These avoid the need to turn a vessel during discharge, minimising delays and standby charges for longshoremen. The cranes can move easily from dockside to staging or storage and can lift heavy nacelles from the offshore side of a vessel, saving time and expense.
 
Cut shipping costs

Alongside the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest is experiencing tremendous growth in wind farm development. Meanwhile, new manufacturers from Asia have increased the flow of turbines through US ports.

Many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have concluded that the fastest and cheapest way to the Midwest from Asia is via west coast ports, served by rail into the Midwest.

The cost advantage of bringing a project through the Pacific Northwest rather than through Gulf of Mexico ports is a reduction in voyage time.

The voyage from China to the Port of Vancouver is 15 days, whereas it takes 30 days to reach some Gulf ports. If a charter vessel is $25,000 a day, the savings could be $375,000, with another $213,750 in fuel economy.

Finally, a vessel transiting the Panama Canal would pay fees of more than $100,000, so the total savings could exceed $600,000.

As expenses for road deliveries have increased, the wind industry has turned to rail, making ports with efficient rail infrastructure attractive.

The Port of Vancouver has dedicated rail tracks for wind energy, cutting costs by up to 50%. With plans to almost triple annual rail volumes to 160,000 cars, the port will also reduce delays by 40%.
 
Safe handling and a skilled workforce

Terminal handling co-ordination is important in creating an efficient and cost-effective model. Working directly with OEMs, stevedores, trucking companies and logistics providers enables labour to be streamlined.

Coordinating trucks, railcars and equipment requirements can allow the pro-rating of labour costs, resulting in a lower overall outlay for each party.

Proper training is also crucial to the safe, efficient handling of delicate wind components.

The Port of Vancouver's insists that those handling wind equipment are appropriately qualified.

This has included specialised oversize and heavy lift training on the giant Liebherr crane.

Ultimately, partnerships between customers, shippers, ports and logistics are critical for complex transportation issues.

Stable, long-term relationships create revenue for infrastructure, land, dedicated rail lines, proper equipment and a well-trained workforce.   
 
Alastair Smith is senior director of marketing and operations at the Port of Vancouver

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