On a rugged Hawke’s Bay hillside, wind turbines have been sprouting from the earth, helped along by a team of dedicated workers operating some of New Zealand’s largest cranes and most advanced machinery.

Working on top of the Maungaharuru Range at 1,000m above sea level, they have been building Meridian’s Harapaki Wind Farm, which will eventually include 41 turbines that generate 176 MW of renewable energy. The wind farm will be New Zealand’s second largest, generating enough electricity to power 70,000 average Kiwi households.

A joint venture between infrastructure construction contractors Hick Bros and Spartan Construction has built the foundation platforms necessary to secure the large turbines that stand 145m from their base to the topmost tip of their blades. Piles up to 20m deep were required to anchor the platforms.

Spartan Construction General Manager Joe Fluhler says working at altitude in New Zealand provides constant challenges, from rain and wind to snow. Crane operators on the site rely on smart wind meters to provide them with real-time visual feedback on wind conditions so they can make sure they are operating within safety margins.

Placing the wind turbine foundations in exactly the right spot is essential in optimising the generation output of each turbine, with foundations designed for each individual location.

Joe says the team has used ‘total stations’ to ensure the foundations are laid out precisely. These stations are surveying tools that communicate with satellites to triangulate onsite reference points, allowing foundations to be pinpointed to within two to three millimetres of accuracy.

“When you drive past and see a turbine standing there turning it’s pretty impressive knowing you built the foundations that those turbines are installed on,” Joe says.

Another cutting-edge tool used on the Harapaki site was the Tesmec 1150XHD ‘Rock Hawg’ surface miner, put to good use levelling sections of the site for roads and foundation bases extracting material to backfill turbine foundations and improving the resilience of the site’s road surfaces, in keeping with the sustainability focus of the project.

The surface miner extracted up to 4,000 tonnes of material per day – the equivalent of four or five excavators working at the same time – and made use of the latest 3D GPS technology which let operators set a course that the miner would follow with the press of a button.

“Nothing went off site – whatever was cut was reengineered for re-use or contouring the site,” he says.

After the foundations were finished, Smith Crane & Construction came on board to lift the turbine components into place with their high-tech Liebherr LTR 11200 telescopic boom crawler crane. The specialist crane was purpose built for erecting wind turbines and designed to manoeuvre in challenging terrain on high altitude sites. It is capable of lifting equipment at heights of up to 189 m and is one of only 17 Liebherr LTR 11200’s ever made.

Smith Crane & Construction Contracts and Engineering Manager Lawrence McBreen-Smith says seeing the turbines go up is immensely rewarding.

“Not every day do you get to go to work with the largest cranes in the country putting together large ‘Meccano’ pieces to build a wind farm – it’s pretty satisfying.”

Erecting the turbines has been an international effort, with teams made up of people from New Zealand and all over the world, including Chile, Brazil, Poland, Ireland, Philippines and South Africa.

Joe says the Hick Bros Spartan Joint Venture has enjoyed working alongside Smith Crane & Construction on the project and he’s proud to have been building infrastructure that shapes the future of New Zealand and helps tackle the climate crisis.

“It’s a project of national significance for New Zealand, once it’s up and running it’s able to power 70,000 homes and we’ve played a part in that.”

Want to build a wind farm?

The global shift towards clean energy is resulting in a boom in new wind farms and jobs in the renewable infrastructure sector. From engineers and field workers to machine operators, opportunities abound for career seekers with the right attitude.

Lawrence says Smith Crane & Construction and many other companies in the industry are always looking for motivated individuals who want to work on epic projects.

“We have people who started cleaning wind turbine components on the ground, now three years later they are a wind tech travelling all over New Zealand working on wind farms earning more than $120,000 a year.”

The key thing potential employees need is a strong work ethic. While a mechanical aptitude helps, all other skills can be taught, he says.

“Just get out there and give it a go, there is so much opportunity to earn good money, learn and develop a career.”

Video: Progress at Harapaki Wind Farm