LYNN, Ind. (AP) — The final blade for the 100th wind turbine in the Headwaters Wind Farm in Randolph County was locked into place late Friday morning.
The delicate maneuver was slow and majestic, the blade moving almost imperceptibly into the low hanging fog clouds. Then, worker's arms and hands reached out from inside the nacelle, or mechanical center, at the top of the turbine to guide the blade into place.
Cell phones clicked for photographs and, while there were not loud, rowdy cheers, the workers' voices reflected their happiness at the conclusion of a job safely completed.
The cradle that lifted the 55-meter blade to the top of the 95-meter tower was decorated with special symbols by the iron workers. There was a 6 ½ foot Christmas tree, an American flag and two skull and crossbones banners.
Colin Smythe, an erection superintendent for White Construction in Clinton, Ind., purchased the evergreen earlier this week from the nearby Sickles Tree Farm.
"It's an old construction tradition," Smythe, who is from Chatham, Ontario, told the Palladium-Item. "It's an iron worker's tradition. It's a symbol of the last pieces going up and no one getting hurt on the job."
Lifting an evergreen on high is has been part of a construction "topping out" ceremony for centuries.
Sickels Tree Farm owner Duane Sickels was excited to see one of his trees "flying" with the wind turbine blades. Sickels had been watching as the 100 wind turbines of the Headwaters Wind Farm were erected around his business and home.
"It's pretty ironic there's a tree farm right in the middle of it," Smythe said.
Mike Sullivan, an erection foreman for White Construction who is from Waterbury, Nebraska, said that he includes a skull and crossbones banner, which some would call a pirate's flag, in the topping out ceremony because, "we built the skeleton."
Ross Combs, project manager for White Construction who is from Monticello, Illinois, said seeing the final piece secured in place means that a lot of pressure has dissolved.
"It feels good," Combs said.
"It's also a little bit bittersweet because we're parting with friends," Smythe said.
Combs, Sullivan and Smythe were project leaders alongside erection superintendents Doug Stoehr and Joe Aiken. The men have worked together many times.
Combs said work on the project began a year ago in December on land leased from about 200 Randolph County property owners. Construction was suspended for the winter months and the crew returned in April.
Turbine deliveries began July 1 and ended the last week of November. The wind farm's components were delivered by rail to a temporary hub in Connersville and then by truck to the construction sites.
More than 30 miles of gravel roads were constructed amid corn and soybean fields to provide access to each turbine. EDP Renewables also built an electrical substation at Randolph County Roads 300 West and 700 South and opened a maintenance hub in Winchester.
The $400 million project will have 200 MW of capacity, enough to power more than 51,000 Indiana homes with clean energy.
The Vestas V110 wind turbines are the latest in that type of technology, Combs said.
The turbines work by capturing the kinetic energy of the wind and converting it into electricity. The electricity is delivered to the grid through an interconnection with a 345-kilovolt transmission line owned and operated by American Electric Power.
The power generated by the wind farm will be distributed by AEP subsidiary Indiana Michigan Power.
With the final blade installed, White Construction's work is done, Combs said.
Finishing electrical work now must be done and the wind turbines commissioned, or turned on. Combs said 54 of the 100 already have been commissioned and he expects all the turbines to be generating power by Dec. 31.