Despite 2015 presenting major challenges for the team working on the largest onshore wind farm in England and Wales, the Pen y Cymoedd project is on track to export its first power to the grid at the end of next year.
WATCHING thousands of gallons of concrete flowing into the last of the 76 turbine foundations at Pen y Cymoedd this week was a welcome early Christmas present for the whole team involved in the huge project.
After what Vattenfall Project Director Will Wason described as an “unbelievably challenging year”, achieving the foundation milestone before the end of 2015 had, at times, looked a tall order.
“The weather has probably been the biggest single factor we have had to battle, with rain of biblical proportions which has made ground conditions very difficult,” explained Will. “It’s fair to say we’ve learned this mountain definitely has a micro climate all of its own!”
The Jones Bros Balfour Beatty joint venture civil works team has also had to import 150,000 tonnes, or 7,500 lorry loads of aggregate to ensure the ground conditions and turbine foundations are adequate for the cranes to be able to install the turbines.
Work to connect the 228MW project to the power grid, being carried out by ABB, has brought its own issues. “Unlike the civil engineering work where we are doing the same thing many times over in preparation for the turbines, such as creating stable bases for each of them, every element of the grid connection has been unique, meaning it has been very hard technically. Despite this we now pretty much have two complete sub-stations in place,” said Will.
With so much construction activity taking place, the site’s achievement of the highest-ever Health and Safety score seen on a Vattenfall project during an audit this year was a source of much pride for Will.
It is particularly impressive given the scale of the project – with a 15mph speed limit it can take two hours of driving to get from one end to the other – but also the significant number of different contractors,and workers In addition, the mountain bike and walking trails within the site remain open to the public with careful management of the construction traffic within these areas. As well as the 30-strong Vattenfall site team and the main contractors’ staff, more than 600 employees from 60 Welsh companies have been involved in providing services such as surfacing, security and traffic management.
At any one time there have been as many as 200 employees on site, more akin to the resources deployed on a huge offshore wind project.
Work off-site ensuring lasting legacy
While work on site has continued apace during 2015, efforts to ensure the project has a much wider positive impact across the community have also progressed significantly. The extent to which the community fund has captured imaginations locally was highlighted by the ideas and comments submitted by 3,000 local people and organisations. These have helped to shape a ‘Vision’ document and film, which will play an important role in determining how to spend the estimated £60m which the project will generate for the community over its life.
An independent community interest company is in the process of being established to manage the fund. Over 150 individuals put themselves forward to serve on its board and appointments will be announced in the New Year. The first awards from the fund are expected to be made in late 2016 or early 2017.
The community is already seeing benefits through sponsorship and investment. For example, support from Vattenfall helped stage mountain biking event Shed Fest 2015 which brought in many visitors from outside the area.
The event ties in with a £300,000 investment made by Vattenfall in the Blade mountain bike trail in the valley which attracted thousands of riders during its first full year of operation in 2015.
Ben Threlfall, who runs the Afan Valley Bike Shed store and who organises Shed Fest, said a wide range of businesses in the area were benefitting from Vattenfall’s support. “Mountain bikers are always looking for new place to visit and trails to try out and that brings money which is spent on accommodation, at shops and cafes and so on.”
Turbines to start to appear on skyline when work in 2016 starts
Despite the many challenges faced on site in 2015, the project is set to end the year on target. But as soon as the team returns in the New Year, the clock starts ticking ahead of a key deadline of exporting the first power to the grid at the end of next year. Work to erect the turbines will take centre stage in 2016. Components started to arrive at Swansea Docks in late November, the first of what will be 684 abnormal loads heading for the site between now and next summer.
Turbine installation work will start in January when the project team’s interest in the weather will focus very much on wind speeds. “We need low wind speeds to be able to erect the turbines and given the reason we choose this location in the first place was the good wind resources that could prove to be difficult at times!” said Will.
If all goes to plan, the first complete turbine is expected to appear on the skyline in April.
For now, as the site prepares for a two week shut down over Christmas and New Year, Will has ordered the project team to have a complete break.
“We have some seriously hard working members on the team who would be sending emails on Christmas Day if they could!” he said. “There’s certainly no shortage of passion and dedication right across everyone working on this project. Without that, we just couldn’t have achieved so much this year, given what we have faced at times.