“How cool would that be to walk a wire across Niagara Falls!” Those were the thoughts of a young Nik Wallenda the first time he visited the Falls with his family while his parents were performing in Buffalo. Nik admits that might sound strange to most people, but being part of the seventh generation of Wallendas who continue in the family tradition, “It’s sort of in the blood,” he says.
Fast forward about 25 years. To make his longtime dream a reality, serious lobbying of US and Canadian officials began twenty months before the walk actually took place. The New York State Assembly passed a bill that granted a onetime anti-stunting law exemption early on in the process, however Ontario Canada’s Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) didn’t grant their approval until four months before the event.
On June 15, 2012, Nik Wallenda became the first person to perform a tightrope skywalk over Niagara Falls since 1896. His successful crossing was performed in front of nearly 200,000 spectators and millions of television viewers across the world. “All my attention is focused right there on that wire and nothing else,” Nik stated. “It’s me and that wire in our own world.”
A key factor in Wallenda’s success rested on finding the right contractor to install the cable: experts who possessed the resources and equipment to rig and stabilize an 1800-foot span of wire rope without the use of guy-wires. He found what he was looking for in NECA Contractor O’Connell Electric and the IBEW Local 1249 tradesmen who work for them.
O’Connell was selected to install Wallenda’s custom made wire rope from among several qualified contractors in the region.
To perform the installation, O’Connell assembled a crew of ten men who were divided into two teams, one on either side of the border. Four days prior to the event, they mobilized and began staging equipment at strategically placed anchor points where micropiles had been drilled and mortared into bedrock.
Wallenda’s 2-inch diameter custom wire rope weighed over seven pounds per linear foot, more than eight tons in all. Too heavy for a helicopter to carry across the gorge, a synthetic rope was used instead. The rope was flown from Table Rock in Canada to Terrapin Point in the US where it was secured to the pulling end of the cable. A swivel fitting allowed the cable to spin freely as it was being fed off the tensioner and keep it from becoming damaged while a turnblock provided the two-part purchase that enabled the rope to meet pulling tensions of around 30,000 pounds.
Pulling of the cable was managed through continual communications between the operator of a large tensioner on the US side, the operator of a puller anchored to the Canadian side, and several spotters who were their eyes for everything in between.
The cable made the Canadian side at 3:30 a.m. Once through the crane pulley, grips were attached to the lead end of the cable so it could be disengaged from the puller and secured in an aligned position with the anchor yoke. Four grips were then attached further back on the cable to make up the rest of the distance. By 8:40 a.m. the anchor pin was set and the cable was secure. Final cable tensioning to 65,000 pounds was achieved between the cranes on either side of the gorge. After crews finished securing the two sites, a 27-hour shift had come to a close.
After a brief rest, crews were back on the job that evening to stabilize the cable. Two by two they journeyed out onto the cable in custom-made baskets from both locations; the very path Nik would take two nights later. Working their way along the wire and out over the Falls, they inspected the cable and secured pendulum anchors every 150 feet to counteract rolling and bouncing of the wire. A small weather station was attached in the center of the wire to monitor the unpredictable micro weather conditions generated by the Falls.
During the walk itself, two O’Connell crews were staged in bucket trucks at each end of the wire. They were prepared to rush to Nik’s aid as first responders in the O’Connell baskets, if necessary. Proving to be the professional athlete that he is, no aid was required. Nik made his 25-minute trek between countries look easy. Within an hour of Nik presenting papers to Canadian customs officials, O’Connell had begun the cable dismantling process. Within 24 hours, O’Connell crews had the cable coiled back onto the truck and their equipment off of both sites, leaving no evidence that they had ever been there.
Nik has aptly stated in numerous interviews that his dream would have never been realized apart from the dedication and expertise of O’Connell Electric and the IBEW Local 1249 tradesmen. We are grateful to have had the privilege to contribute to this historic event.
Next stop, the Grand Canyon.
A month before the walk, O’Connell installed a practice cable at the Seneca Niagara Casino that was identical to the one pulled across the Niagara River gorge for the big event, only slightly shorter. Open to the public, Nik practiced for eleven days, just a block away from the American Falls. To help simulate conditions he might encounter over the Falls, he incorporated a large, high-powered fan and fire hose spray into his daily workouts.
Cohocton Wind is a 125MW wind farm sited across the hilltops of a designated agricultural district in New York State’s Finger Lakes Region. The $150 million project involved installation of 50 Clipper Liberty 2.5MW Wind Turbines, two substations, transmission lines, and access roads. Cohocton Wind is owned and operated by Canandaigua Power Partners, an LLC created by developer First Wind. The site provides enough energy to supply 50,000 homes in the Northeastern US.
Under a $7.5 million contract with MSE Power Systems, O’Connell constructed the project’s two collection substations, overhead collection lines, ten miles of pole supported overhead 115kV transmission line, and the New York State grid point of interconnect 230kV switchyard. Construction began in winter involving site clearing, excavation, and pole setting on the steep, rugged slopes of the Bristol Hills. The combination of our experience and fleet of specialized all-terrain equipment and track vehicles enabled us to meet the challenges of the project and complete work within the construction window, even with numerous scheduling, weather, and site access setbacks.
The overhead transmission line O’Connell constructed connects Cohocton Wind’s two collection substations on opposing sides of New York Interstate 390. Our crossing of the interstate coincided with that of another large area construction project which we successfully managed simultaneously without interruption to either. Throughout the project, O’Connell was able to utilize the regional railroad system for delivery of poles as well as removal of logs from site clearing.
Project management on the ground and back at the office maintained strong working relationships with area government and regulatory officials as well as regular communications with resident land owners to facilitate successful construction activities. Our experience working within agricultural districts and our utilization of local forces helped breakdown barriers that could have further inhibited construction progress.
O’Connell’s Technical Services Division commissioned elements of the system to ensure they met with the interconnecting utility’s standards and specs. We remained engaged in the project past our contractual obligations to provide counsel and help ensure a seamless energization of the system.
Energy East (formerly Rochester Gas & Electric) provides electricity to over 350,000 customers in a region centered around the City of Rochester in Upstate New York. With industry deregulation, Energy East shifted its focus from power generation to power distribution. In decommissioning a major generating station in Rochester, the company needed to update and improve transmission/distribution facilities as it brought outside power into the area.
To meet the needs of Energy East’s massive $115 million transmission/distribution project, O’Connell formed a joint venture partnership, Rochester Power Delivery, with two other companies. O’Connell provided new and updated transmission lines for the project which included installation of 40 circuit miles overhead, 50 circuit miles underground for 34.5kV and 115kV capacity. O’Connell reinforced the transmission loop surrounding the City of Rochester as well as the region’s connections to the cross-state transmission tie-line.
Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation is a utility serving approximately 300,000 electric and about 74,000 natural gas customers in an eight county area of New York State’s Mid-Hudson River Valley, including the suburbs of metropolitan New York City north to the capital district at Albany.
O’Connell Electric successfully completed the project to replace existing Steel and Wood “H” Frame and single pole structures with New Single Steel Structures for Overhead Transmission and related work.
Casella Waste Systems owns and operates a methane gas-to-energy plant at their landfill operations in Angelica, New York—the company’s fourth LFGTE project. Energy East contracted with Casella to tap into this renewable energy power generating source. At full capacity the site is expected to produce 4.8 megawatts per hour of clean energy.
As an industry leader in environmental stewardship, O’Connell Electric actively pursues renewable and alternative energy projects where our expertise can be utilized. For this project we were awarded two contracts totaling $3.2 million. The work involved constructing six miles of overhead 34.5kV sub transmission line and a 34.5kV switchyard substation with point of interconnect (POI) to tie the Casella power generating facility into Energy East’s transmission system.
Developer Noble Environmental Power, sells the electric power generated at the Wethersfield Wind Farm into the New York power market as well as renewable energy credits to green energy marketers. The wind park has 84 General Electric 1.5MW wind turbines capable of producing 126MW of power. The wind farm’s substation steps-up the 34,500 voltage to 230KV for transmission while the switchyard connects the wind farm’s power to New York State Gas & Electric’s 230KV utility grid via a ring bus configuration.
On the Wethersfield project O’Connell contracted with Noble for $6.5 million of electrical construction and testing work. We demonstrated our strength in several areas key to successful wind park operation: power grid Point of Interconnect (POI), switchyard construction, overhead transmission line construction, and total system testing and commissioning.
Construction services included a 230KV POI ring bus switchyard and the six miles of overhead 230KV transmission line. O’Connell’s Technical Services Division conducted end-to-end testing from the collection substation to the switchyard along with functional testing and commissioning of the switchyard.
The project was completed on schedule.
South of Buffalo, New York, on an abandoned Bethlehem Steel plant site, eight 2.5MW Clipper wind turbines are producing power for the New York State Independent System Operator grid. Called “Steel Winds”, it was a $40 million clean energy project developed and owned jointly by BQ Energy and UPC Wind. The wind turbines (the largest manufactured in the U.S.) can produce 57,000 MW-Hours of electricity a year with the power sold both to individual companies and utilities. Steel Winds is said to be the largest U.S. wind farm developed in an urban setting and the first sited on the shores of Lake Erie.
What started as a small condition assessment job on a retired substation by O’Connell’s Technical Services Group led to our getting the complete electrical construction package at Steel Winds, subcontracted from the Tennessee Valley Infrastructure Group. We repaired and modified the existing substation to accept power generated by the wind turbines, installed the underground collection systems and overhead transmission lines, tower wiring and grounding, and ran fiber optics for all data communications. We wrapped up the project where it all began—at the substation—by providing final systems acceptance testing and commissioning. Today, we provide preventative maintenance services to the new site owners.
To meet growing demands, NYSEG needed to reinforce the electrical system capacity for Westchester County by installing a new sub transmission line that would connect the grid to a regional distribution substation.
O’Connell was prime contractor for NYSEG’s $2 million project to install a 46kV transmission line near Katonah and Cross River, New York.
The project consisted of constructing six miles of pre-assembled aerial cable transmission line, one and a half miles of overhead construction to 115kV standards, and a quarter mile open crossing over the heavily traveled I-684 corridor. Completing the highway crossing with only a 14 minute traffic stoppage was a notable achievement—especially on Mother’s Day morning. The project was completed in four months.
Bliss Wind Farm, a 100.5 megawatt wind power generation site, was the first of several wind farms recently developed in the Greater Niagra Region of Upstate New York. The site features 67 GE 1.5 megawatt turbines and represents a $200 million investment in clean, renewable energy funded by G.E. Energy Services and operated by Noble Environmental Power.
O’Connell’s contribution spanned three diverse aspects of the Noble Bliss project—testing, power line construction, and data communications.
Prior to breaking ground, Nobel contracted with our Technical Services Division to provide acceptance testing for the project’s underground cable while it was still on spools at their warehouse. After construction, we performed all acceptance testing for the site’s overhead collection and tower grounding systems and on each of the 67 turbine tower transformers. We also provided site energization and start-up support.
O’Connell’s Power Line Division sealed a deal with Noble for $3.6 million to do their part. Line work involved running 115kV overhead transmission line between the site’s 34.5/115kV substation and grid interconnection substation, 14 miles away, and 25 miles of overhead collection system, single, double, and triple 34.5kV circuit Hendrix Cable construction. All line work was completed within 10 months.
Our Communications Division was awarded the fiber optics portion of the project. Fiber cable carries crucial operation and performance data from instrumentation on each turbine to a single collection point at the site. From there it is transmitted to a commercial processing center where it is monitored and analyzed. O’Connell reel tested and installed 90,000 feet of fiber optic cable, performing 1600 terminations, 110 aerial and pedestal splice points, and all final post-termination fiber testing
O'Connell provides comprehensive end-to-end overhead and underground transmission and distribution systems preventative maintenance and emergency response services.