Under an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) arrangement, contractors are responsible for designing and building a wind farm. This means the service provider procures the materials and designs and builds the project, while also absorbing all of the risks – meaning the contractor is ultimately responsible for the project’s design flaws, inaccuracies or general missteps.
Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that many service providers often go to great lengths to ensure wind farms operate successfully. Such actions can take many forms, including visiting the location early in the process. Call it value engineering, the latest buzzwords for a subset of the wind industry accustomed to delivering large projects on time and under budget.[adright zone=’190′]
“Site visits by the EPC can allow them to assess the most effective way to deliver the construction solution that sometimes cannot be evaluated by reviewing drawings,” explains Greg Duke, senior director of business development at construction service provider Infrastructure & Energy Alternatives.
Rob Lee, vice president of construction at Wanzek Construction, agrees. The ability to plan a project, he says, aligns directly with how many of the details you know about the physical project site – along with everything that it entails.
“Site visits are crucial to understanding topography, the existing utilities and infrastructure, meeting the landowners, and talking to local businesses,” Lee explains, noting there isn’t one singular example demonstrating the importance of site visits. “That’s how important they are to delivering a well-planned and executed project.”
At the end of last year, Lee recalled assisting a client with some work on a large project in Texas. At this point, Wanzek had not been awarded the full project but assisted with a few small-scope items to get the project rolling to ensure production tax credit compliance.
“During these activities, the Wanzek team on-site developed a system of taking copious notes and communicating them to the estimating team,” he says. “This resulted in numerous value engineering solutions that were developed and proposed to the client.”
A proactive approach of valuating the project site early on, Lee says, will eventually result in a “large reduction in project cost and schedule,” giving the construction service provider an advantage when the full project is released for bid.
Although EPCs encourage initial collaboration with geotechnical engineers and geophysical scientists through which the design engineers gain early knowledge of preliminary design parameters, those site visits can uncover subtle opportunities for cost savings, says Jason Zingerman, senior vice president of construction for RES Americas.
For example, Zingerman says that a targeted subsurface investigation – which can detect risks, allowing for the team to make swift design adjustments and avoid unnecessary costs – is often critical to maintaining the project’s financial health and viability. And that’s precisely what happened during a recent road review. After RES reviewed the site in person, Zingerman says RES notified the third-party engineer that it could reduce site grading requirements, which yielded cost savings for the client.
Of course, project success isn’t solely dependent on site visits alone. Engineering is also critical for success.
“Engineering uncovers many items that one cannot see with the naked eye on a site visit,” Wanzek’s Lee explains, noting that engineering and site visits are two separate but equally important pieces to the puzzle. From geotechnical engineering, to final Issues for Construction Drawings, the engineering process plays a pivotal role in every aspect of the project – from cable sizing, to thickness of roads, to selection of equipment.
“The engineering process takes all known inputs, including the soil conditions, interconnect agreement and turbine technical specs, and brings a conceptual project in the development stages to a constructible project,” he says. “Adding in the valuable information learned on the site visit with the engineering, and we are able to provide value engineering options that positively affect the cost of the project or the cost of operating the wind farm after the date of commercial operation – or, preferably, both.”
Some developers use a third-party engineer to design the project, which is then bid out to balance of plant (BOP) contractors that build what the engineer designs. The more sophisticated owner-operators like to go the BOP route, as they can squeeze as much fat out of the process as possible and lower the overall costs. That said, an EPC approach provides for a much faster process and allows for better cooperation between the engineering and construction disciplines throughout the design and costing process.
Adds RES’ Zingerman, “EPCs are more likely to actively design a project with constructability cost control taken into account than third-party engineers. Having a full EPC involved allows for directly related lessons learned to be considered, thus improving odds of successful construction process and lowest price for both the EPC and project owner.”
However, there is one caveat about EPCs, notes Jay Haley, mechanical engineer and partner at EAPC Wind Energy, a full-service design consulting firm.
“EPC contractors can and do add value based on their experience and ability to streamline the design and construction process,” he says. “This can result in lowering of costs and shortening of schedules. There is a risk that the best interests of the owner may not be served in the cost-cutting process, so it is typical and recommended to have an owner’s engineer involved to look out for the owner’s interests in the project.”