Giant power transformer makes safe trip from Newberry to Fort White solar farm

She arrived in Newberry by rail car two weeks ago as discreetly as a 144,000 pound power transformer could. 

And two weeks later, on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, she left for Fort White with a Florida Highway Patrol escort, a following of two pilot cars and an entourage of rigging pros.

The GE manufactured power transformer was delivered straight from the GE Prolec plant in Monterey, Mexico on one of GE’s 1.2 million pound, eight axle railroad cars, according to Steven Hough, a fourth-generation crane and rigging expert and CEO of HLI Rail and Rigging out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Hough sat on the tailgate of a pickup truck and watched his logistics play out. GE hired him to oversee the delivery of the 16 feet by 11 feet transformer to a solar farm in Fort White about 30 miles from Newberry.

The Columbia Solar Power Plant is being built on 580 acres in Fort White  off of Fry Road.

Duke Energy announced that the 74.9-megawatt (MW) plant, “Will consist of approximately 245,000 solar panels on the site, which will produce enough carbon-free energy to power over 20,000 average homes at peak production.

According to Duke Energy Spokeswoman Ana Gibbs, “The solar power plant will be owned, operated and maintained by Duke Energy Florida and developed by Core Solar, which has constructed other solar projects in Florida.” The planned operations start date was March 2020 and part of Duke Energy Florida’s plan to construct or acquire 700 MW of solar generation by 2022.

Duke Energy Florida also announced breaking ground on the Hamilton Solar Power Plant in Jasper in early July, and Hough says he has another order coming for a transformer for that location soon.

Tuesday’s move went smoothly. In a five hour span, crews from Crane & Rigging of Jacksonville and Rountree Rigging of Jacksonville showed up with the 300 ton Liebherr crane capable of lifting up to 600,000 pounds, five 50-foot flatbed haulers to hold the 84,000 pounds of counter weights for the crane, a Rountree LowBoy hauler that runs on 13 axles and spans about 110 feet, six pick up trucks transporting crew, and two pilot cars, one from Atlantic Beach, Florida and one from Ocala.

According to the two Florida Highway Patrol officers who halted traffic on Newberry Road at the railroad tracks in downtown Newberry for about 10 minutes, the effort required a 200,000 pound transport permit to happen.

For Hough, who has spent 15 years running the family business, this was one of many big moves he has made all over the country. He said he’ll be back in a few weeks to complete the same task.

Photo and video from Mainstreet Daily News Staff Photographer Suzette Cook.

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