Moving a 187-ton turbine makes for a great show, and there’s a sequel

The 187-ton General Electric turbine that’s crossing Ithaca today on its way to a new power plant in Pennsylvania is one of two. The second will follow in a few weeks, taking a similar path from Schenectady to Carbondale.

The enormous transport includes drivers in front of and behind the turbine, with trucks to both pull and push. Photo by Dean O’Gorman.

Crowds have turned out in the relatively good weather along much of the turbine’s route, and dozens if not hundreds of spectators have shared photos and video clips from the side of the road, or from vantage points across highways or fields.

“We’ll be finished with this one around Valentine’s Day,” Kyle McAfee with Edwards Moving tells 14850 Today, and can then start planning to move its twin. The turbines are the largest ever delivered fully assembled from GE, with a modular design that will let a power plant operator put them right in place.

Why do they travel on local roads?

Mr. McAfee answered one of the questions we’ve heard a lot from readers the last few days: why can’t they take the Interstate highway system? “There’s not enough clearance,” he says. USDOT guidelines allow as little as 14 feet of clearance, 17 for overhead sign trusses and pedestrian overpasses, but the turbine convoy needs at least 19 feet, which is much easier to ensure on state and county highways.

Bucket truck teams lift power lines out of the way as the turbine travels. Photo courtesy of Matt Montague.

Power company bucket trucks and crews travel with the turbine convoy and lift wires out of the way. When there’s a low overpass along a route, they can go around it. This week’s transport will actually cut through a farmer’s field — with permission — to avoid a 12-foot-high overpass on Route 34 near Spencer.

Why not trains? The width limit is too narrow. As we’ve noticed, police need to close two-lane roads in both directions in many spots. The maximum width for train transport is 10.5 feet, though loads up to 11 feet wide can be moved with additional planning.

Instead, GE contracts with companies like Edwards that specialize in moving especially heavy or especially large loads. The team uses a dozen CDL drivers at a time, Mr. McAfee says, with trucks both ahead of and behind the load, shifting position to put more trucks behind or ahead depending on the terrain.

Why not at night?

A large portion of the crew moving a load like this is watching for obstacles, from mailboxes and signs to fire hydrants and cars parked along the shoulder. They need to be able to see them and deal with them before the trucks get to them. Of course, federal guidelines restrict the number of hours commercial driver license operators can drive at night, as well.

Instead, route planners find a large, solid clearing where the load can be parked overnight, such as the parking lot at The Rink in Lansing, where the convoy spent this Saturday night. Teams lay out wooden platforms before the convoy stops for the night, so the extremely heavy load can be spread out. Some of this week’s platforms were splintering under the load; officials tell us they were the wrong type of wood.

Where to next?

After it leaves Ithaca, the transport will head south on Route 34 towards Spencer. To avoid a low-clearance railroad bridge, it will turn left onto Hillview, and pass a gravel pit. At the T at Michigan Hollow Road, Larry Fye of Edwards Moving says they have obtained a farmer’s permission to cross the field, and then rejoin Michigan Hollow on the other side.

The turbine convoy will stay put on Monday for a mandatory “DOT reset,” Mr. Fye says, before continuing on Tuesday morning down Michigan Hollow Road to rejoin Route 34, which it will take into Spencer.

South of the Pennsylvania line, the route includes Route 220 and then Route 6 to Carbondale. We understand that they’re heading for Moxie Energy’s new Freedom Generation Plant, a natural gas power plant that will generate about 325 megawatts of power for each of two turbines, and then use a heat recovery process to generate an additional 200 megawatts of power from the hot exhaust gases that would otherwise be waste heat.

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