THE 'FIRST Fire' at the €331m Great Island power plant is due to take place next month, with the majority of work concluding in June, the New Ross Standard has learned.
To date 1.9 million man hours have been expended on the 3,989 sqm site overlooking the Ballyhack and Passage East estuary, which is the biggest construction site in the country at present.
The new power plant will replace the old 8,100 sqm two towered heavy oil burning plant which will be decommissioned and in its place will stand a 60 metre single tower power plant which will be the most cost effective and profitable in the country.
SSE's Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) will be the first power plant of its kind in the country and the Great Island plant is to become the company's Irish and UK training base which will ensure a steady flow of SSE staff into the greater New Ross area for decades to come.
670 staff are currently on site, but during the peak period there were 900 people working on the relatively small construction site. In all SSE has provided work for over 1700 people since construction began in March 2012.
While the new CCGT occupies a footprint half that of the existing plant, it is almost twice as powerful as the existing plant.
Work on the site is ongoing 24/7 to meet the late May deadline, with most staff working a 40 hour week. There are 400km of electrical cables on site and the staff, which are largely comprised of Irish, Spanish and Japanese have been communicating using maps and technical terms to make the project a success.
The next major landmark towards the completion of the power plant of Ireland's most efficient power station will be the 'first fire' of the 461MW CCGT, which is expected to take place in late May.
At 'first fire' the power plant's new Mitsubishi CCGT powertrain will be put into operation for the first time. During first fire, gas is combined with air and ignited through a combustion process to rotate a gas turbine. The waste heat generated from this process is used to convert water into high pressure steam which is used to rotate a steam turbine. Any residual steam is converted back into water and recycled through the system. The two turbines combined are attached to a generator via a single shaft which generates the electricity that will be output.
Peter Gavican, SSE's Project Manager for the Great Island CCGT project, said: 'First fire is a huge achievement for everyone involved in the construction of Great Island. Moving towards first fire follows a successful, on-schedule and on-budget construction period so far at Great Island.'
When it was first commissioned in 1967, the Great Island power station was Ireland's premier power station and today at Great Island SSE is constructing what will once again be Ireland's premier station when it is commissioned.
The natural gas CCGT power plant is expected to become operational in late 2014, although it will be producing power for consumption this summer. The plant will generate enough greener energy to power the equivalent of half a million Irish homes in the South East. When completed it will be Ireland's cleanest, most efficient and reliable gas power plant on the Irish national grid.
40 staff will remain in place once the plant is opened and the staff have been in place since July 2013 learning about how exactly the station works.
Mr Gavican said civil works including mechanical and erection are near completion and the focus will now be on completing electrical, control and instrumentation works over the coming months.
As a result the 670 staff on site will be reduced to around 300 by July and by the Autumn only 40 workers will be on site, controlling the station on a shift basis.
In an interview with the New Ross Standard on site, Mr Gavican said the 43km, €43m gas pipeline constructed between Kilkenny to Great Island, which was funded by SSE, is live, but no Wexford or Taghmon business has yet to avail of the arm of the €20m pipeline which extends from Great Island to both areas.
Mr Gavican said it would cost between €3m and €4m to construct a natural gas pipeline to New Ross but no Government funding has been arranged for this to be carried out.
'It would have cost €30m to bring a pipeline from Bawnlusk in Co Kilkenny to New Ross,' he added.
Mr Gavican said thankfully there have been no serious workplace accidents on site.
'At SSE safety is our core value. We believe all accidents are preventable, so we do everything safely and responsibly or not at all. We are very proud to say that we have worked 1.9m hours to date on the construction of this project and we have had no serious injuries on what is a very challenging and congested site area.'
Apart from some graffiti approaching the site referencing the Corrib gas works off the Mayo coast and some health and safety concerns raised by local residents, Mr Gavican said the CCGT project has been positively received by the local community and local stakeholder. 'Where any matters have arisen we've worked with the community and local stakeholders to ensure that these are satisfactorily addressed. This is in line with our long term commitment to work with the community for a better future for the community in which we operate and particularly our commitment as a major employer in the region. Through the construction of this project we have not only created up to 670 construction jobs at Great Island, around 70 per cent of whom live locally in Wexford and surrounding counties.'
A €440,000 traffic management plan which was deemed unnecessary by the local authority, was implemented by SSE, creating employment.
Mr Gavican said the project was delayed for two weeks due to the stormy weather in January and February.
'We had a very tough January and February but luckily we had no damage except for some fallen trees. The power was out for two days but we had battery back-up. Structurally we had an open turbine building and every panel was in place afterwards and we are more exposed than anywhere else here. We've recovered our schedule and are back on time.'
He said SSE has committed to the Great Island site building a €1.5m simulator computer system which will enable SSE staff to learn how to deal with any problems which arise.
'The plant will be a centre of excellence for SSE in Ireland and the UK training people on CCGT and fault finding as you can replicate faults on the simulator that would be impossible to do live during running operations.'
Theexisting 240MW heavy fuel oil plant is expected to be knocked in the coming years and Mr Gavican said there will be an oil back-up system for generating electricity on site in case of emergency.