Green Fleets: Blowing in the wind

| November 16, 2008

Kimosabe Bublitz and T. Boone Pickens don’t have much in common, but they are on the same page when it comes to alternative energy. While oilman Pickens is promoting the virtue of wind power and backing it up with a giant wind farm in West Texas, Bublitz hauls wind turbines and towers all across the United States. In the past year, Bublitz’s small fleet, Blitz Transportation Services, has moved more than 100 windmill blades from as far east as New York State west to Wyoming, Montana and Texas. Some of the trips have taken two weeks. Some hauls include double blades that stretch to more than 165 feet.

For the next several years, Shelton, Wash.-based Bublitz will be spending a lot of time in Texas, working with a windmill maintenance center in Abilene that has 55 technicians monitoring windmills throughout the country. The business is so good that Bublitz has deployed three tractors and three specially designed trailers to both Abilene and Houston. All but one of the tractors are 2008 Kenworth T800s, and two more are on order, equipped with 475-hp engines and 18-speed transmissions.

His Trail King and Kalyn Siebert trailers cost $135,000 to $160,000, while two on order will set him back $174,000 each. They have short decks on either end and an adjustable deck in the middle that slides out to 165 feet. “These trailers are designed for hauling blades, and I create my own features to haul not just blades but other windmill equipment as well,” Bublitz says.

With those loads, Bublitz doesn’t get great mileage. The T800s, which are still getting broken in, have mileage ranging from the low fours to more than 6 mpg. Ironically, fierce headwinds play havoc with fuel efficiency in some locales. “Sometimes the wind will lift the complete truck off the ground,” he says.

Windmills are attracting attention as calls for alternatives to fossil fuels heat up. A big wind farm is arising along the Oregon side of the Columbia River. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently mapped out a project to place windmills atop Manhattan skyscrapers. Wind groups want to expand the wind energy share of U.S. electricity to 20 percent by 2020 from less than 1 percent now.

No windmill development outpaces Pickens’ farm in Sweetwater, Texas, where about 2,000 machines are set to be erected this year. Each windmill requires 11 oversize truckloads for blades, tower, generator, hardware and extra parts.

The windmills are placed a quarter mile apart. The tower is about the height of a 30-story building with three blades attached. Newly designed blades from Brazil come in at 200 feet long with curved tips that enhance wind capture. The new design requires breezes of only four miles per hour. Compare that to the 16 mph for older, shorter blades, and you can see the potential of windmills generating electricity with today’s technology.

“There aren’t enough trucks and oversize trailers in the United States to do the job,” Bublitz says. “For trailers, orders are out 12 months.”

Drivers? Bublitz is looking, sure, but “won’t hire anybody unless they have four or five years’ experience driving long trailers,” he says. “I’m looking for a dozen more people. It takes more than the average truck driver. We’re also looking for pilot drivers, who follow behind to protect the loads. The pilot vehicle has a remote control to guide the trailer in the back.”

Transporting windmills around the country is an intriguing new direction for Bublitz, who spent 30 years hauling logs in an industry that’s down in the dumps now. But he’s enthused about any job that involves “new and big things. My thing is playing with big loads,” he says. “What I’m doing is beyond the range of normal.”

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