Windstruck in Wyoming

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Flying J, Interstate 25 exit 7,  Cheyenne, Wyoming March 6, 2017

    A trailer needs to be washed out after a Meat load – despite all the packaging and -10° F temperature – before it carries a Produce load.  There are truck wash shops scattered over the United States that you may never have noticed – I didn’t either, until recently.  They are not on every street corner, however and I drove about an hour to find one.  Before the dawn’s early light, I was pulled up in front of a wash bay in Hesperia, California.  The first order of business is to locate the office and pay.  I was about to walk through the wash bay to find same when I realized that the equipment being washed here were livestock trailers (“slaughter buggies” in the vernacular).  You may imagine the debris associated with this activity – or not, if you prefer. 😉  So, I walked clear around the building instead – not to belittle the “smell of money”, as ranchers call it.  I asked about the situation at the desk and, as I had suspected, Produce trailers are washed in another bay – in another building.

This shipper operates in that near-perfect mode called “drop-and-hook”.  Upon entering, the driver locates the “empties” area and parks the trailer.  Then a short “bobtail” drive to the office where he is assigned a pre-loaded trailer full of various salad vegetables.  These have been assembled at the shipper from various suppliers.  The connection is made and the road trip commences.  This is vastly superior to the sometimes-days-long process of assembling a load by driving around to various providers. The poster child for inefficiency are those such sojourns.

The battle with the Clock continues on this load.  Upon arrival at St. George, Utah and after logging out of drive mode, there is just enough time for the 30-minute post-trip inspection.  As the truck creeps around looking for an empty space Jill, the Navigation Computer is harping, “Continuing to drive may invalidate your break, which is not complete.”   Finally settled, the post trip inspection is done and logged and Jill can now complain, “You have zero hours and zero minutes of remaining drive time.”  That’s OK Sweethart –  I ain’t goin’ nowhere for ten hours!

A few hours before, near the California/Nevada border, I had passed what I think must be a legendary Faux Pas of Industrial Folly called Ivanpah.  I will have to look it up.

I am waiting for a load assignment and more sleep is the wise course of action while waiting.  So, please excuse me for a while.  Tune in again for an explanation of Ivanpah.

Truck Parking Area, I-80 about 40 miles west of Cheyenne, WY March 6, 2017

The wind is sustained at 30 mph and gusting to 40.  I heard that on the radio shortly before leaving the truck stop.  My hours appeared at midnight and I waited for a load assignment.  Finally, at 0900, I got a phone call which is in itself unusual – the satellite communicator is the normal.  They wanted me to run 150 miles to Rawlins and swap my empty for a load to Denver. The radio had warned that high profile, lightweight vehicles (like, say, a truck towing an empty high cube trailer) are at risk.  They mentioned that traveling on North-South highways was especially dangerous.  I only had a few miles up I-25 North to get to I-80 and go West.  As I swung on to 25, I noticed the truck ahead of me was diagonal in his lane.  A glance in the mirror informed me that he was not the only one.  I had the tractor square in the middle of my lane, but the trailer wheels were over the line on the shoulder.  How much depended on the gust.

  On I-80, things were better – a little better.  I passed the Distribution Center where I delivered yesterday and there was a brown cloud blowing onto the road.  Sand, not dust it was and bordering on “gravel”.  Once I clean the windshield, I will not be surprised to find some new pits in it.

DC_SandstormThe Distribution Center in the sand cloud.


 I passed some of those “renewable” windmills.  They should be especially efficient in this weather, no?  NO. All of them are feathered to the wind and locked down motionless.  They would be ripped to shreds in this gusting wind. Coal keeps the lights on in situations like this.

WindmillsInWindstormWindmills in a windstorm.  You will – of course – have to take my word for it that these were unmoving in a 30 mile per hour sustained wind.

    Just after I passed this parking area (defined as no facilities – at all) I saw one of those programable road signs that said, “Extreme Blow-over Risk”.  If they had left off the “Extreme” bit, I would have “pressed on with all dispatch”. Yes, I had a two-handed Death Grip on the wheel and the truck was all over the road, but a mere “blow-over risk” would not have stopped me.  That word was the difference between Adventure and Folly.  I had this vision of an accident investigator asking me, “What part of “Extreme Risk” did you not understand, Mr. Campbell?”  

  I turned around at the first overpass and high-tailed it back here.  The Captain’s Office is shaking persistently, but I can manage to type.  Sleep would be appropriate, but I’ve had my fill of same in the last 21 hours at the Flying J in Cheyenne.

The narrative returns to Nevada, now.  Ivanpah is a very large, very expensive “renewable” solar power project in the Nevada Dessert.  This is what they call a solar thermal plant, where a large array of adjustable mirrors are deployed on the desert floor.  They reflect the sunlight onto a tower where the intense heat makes steam that powers turbines that run generators to make power which is then sent along to join the electrical network that we all take for granted.  Like many such ideas, it works fine in theory.  In practice, major problems begin to show up as the engineering goes along.

Here is what I saw near Primm, Nevada:

SolarThermal1What I know of Ivanpah is this: Three Solar Thermal Towers – one of them inactive, surrounded by large arrays of mirrors, in a valley in the Nevada desert.  If this is not Ivanpah, then I found its twin.

First and most obviously, the sun disappears behind the Planet for half of every day.  If you are not a Science* Nerd like me, you might imagine that batteries could store electric power for that part of the day’s electrical demand.  It turns out that batteries are not nearly as capable as you may have been led to believe and they are simply not up to the task.  I’ll quote some figures later.

The un-solar period is longer than twelve hours.  The sunset and sunrise are at a very low angle to the mirrors, so the effective area of sunshine is very much reduced.  Also, the sunlight is passing through thousands of miles of atmosphere in the morning and evening –  instead of a hundred or so at noon.  So, maybe ten hours of power may be optimistically expected on average per day.


I looked it up and sure enough, this was none other than Ivanpah!

The Ivanpah concept had in mind to replace the Sun’s heat with Natural Gas for the fourteen remaining hours of the day and that works just fine.  Consider:  we have just established that the majority (a minimum 58 percent) of Ivanpah’s power comes from Natural Gas – a “Fossil Fuel”!

I could go on for many pages about the problems with Ivanpah, but I’ll try to sum them up in this short list:

  1. That darkened tower in the middle was damaged when the focus of the sunlight was accidently shifted and slagged (partially melted) some important machinery. It is obvious “ground truth” by my personal observation and photograph that the tower is not operating.
  2. The place incinerates birds. That glowing light attracts insects which attracts small birds, which attract large (“Protected”) predator birds.  The concentrated sunlight ignites their feathers and they fall from the sky.  They are endearingly referred to as “streamers” for the smoke trails they leave on their way down.
  3. Even our common sense estimate of 10 hours of solar powered generation per day is coming up short. They have to use Natural Gas during 4 and ½ hours of the “start up” period.
  4. As you might expect, the finances are bad news as well. The backers of this disaster want a Billion plus in loan guarantees by You The Taxpayers to become a Grant. That is, they don’t want to pay back the loan.

Some of this is covered in the article linked below.

  Back at the Parking Area near Cheyenne: Winds have increased from 30 to 40 mph sustained and gusting to 58.  I can see trucks going by on the highway, but I am sure that all are full.  I will not take this empty out there until something changes.  A lull in the winds is forecast for tonight.  After that, Tuesday will be another Blustery Day.  I will have to take a nap, soon – despite my total lack of sleepiness, thus to be ready to move when the lull finally comes. The truck is still shaking severely despite being between two other trucks.  One is directly upwind, but doing little to “protect” me.

The NOAA conditions at 2 PM for Cheyenne have winds at 48, gusting to 63.  My new route goes right through Cheyenne.

  I will pick up the story later.

Over the Road,


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