HECTOR — While driving to Ulysses, one can look to the horizon and see windmills way above the treetops. These windmills are part of a $140 million project that began in February 2018: Big Level Wind.
Construction of the 90 megawatt wind farm, owned by TransAlta, an electric company that operates in the United States, Canada and Australia, is located off of a private road that stems from Dodge Hollow Road.
The construction of Big Level Wind is expected to be finished by the end of the year, with restoration work to continue into 2020, TransAlta representatives said during a tour of the wind farm on Oct. 9.
The wind farm will have 25 GE3.6-137 turbines over 5,662 acres of private land. Nineteen of those turbines will be on 430-foot towers and six will be on 360-foot towers.
Once the turbines are erected, the 430-foot turbines will be the tallest in North America. There are three blades on each turbine, which are each 220 feet long.
Putting together the turbines is no small task. There are two shifts — day and night — and if there are no weather impacts, it takes about four shifts to complete the topping of a turbine. One crew will set the two tower sections with a 300-ton crane, and will do some internal turbine work with transformers. Then, the nacelle, hub and blades are installed with special tools.
Wind impact is something that needs to be taken into account; if the wind is blowing faster than 20 mph, it’s not safe to install and work will be postponed.
Erecting the turbines is a major portion of the job, with electrical work done internally. Once erected, General Electric — the supplier of the turbines — will commission the turbines and start testing them. Once it is fully operational, General Electric will be onsite to do maintenance.
At the peak of construction, about 220 people were working onsite. Currently, there are 180 people working. At one point, about 30-40 of those working were local residents.
Of those on the tour of the Big Level wind farm was Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. This stop was part of a three-day tour of the region; most months of the year, he and his staff tour a region of the Commonwealth.
“It was very impressive,” McDonnell said. When he first started working for the department, he was working on clean energy and energy efficient projects and was able to see a few wind farms.
“At that point, we were talking about 16 megawatt wind farms … so when you’re on a site and seeing a 3.6 megawatt turbine — and that’s just one of them — and over 400 feet tall, the scale and the way technology comes along is impressive,” McDonnell said.
He hopes to see more wind farms in Pennsylvania.
“I think it’s a great technology and I know obviously we have a different wind resource but a number of other states have taken advantage of their wind resources … having it as part of our portfolio is important for us as a Commonwealth,” McDonnell said.
Potter County Commissioner Susan Kefover was also on the tour and thought the wind farm was something the county should be proud of.
“That is extremely impressive,” Kefover said during a recent commissioners’ meeting. “And now when you travel to Ulysses you can see on the horizon those windmills that will just take your breath away, they’re beautiful.”