State of Nevada now has its first wind farm, Pattern Energy's 150 MW
Spring Valley wind project, which has won an award for the use of
Virtual Design and Construction technology to overcome the challenges
of building on environmentally protected lands.
When it comes to wind power, Nevada is
not the first state that comes
to mind, but it recently saw the start of operation of its first wind
farm, Pattern Energy Group LP's 150 MW Spring Valley
project—and there could be more wind power to come.
to the National Renewable Energy Lab, Nevada has wind
resources of more than 7,200 MW, meaning there is the potential for
wind power to provide a large share of the state's power needs in the
Pattern Energy Group CEO Mike Garland says the company knew Nevada had
good wind resources and had been looking to do a wind project there for
several years; it was a matter of lining up the right site and
gathering support from a number of different groups and government
"Spring Valley Wind came about after a long effort looking in Nevada,"
he said. "The state has reasonable wind resources, but a number of the
locations we had looked at would have been very difficult in terms of
construction, including some high elevation sites."
The 7,700 acre site on federal land in west central Nevada (near the
state line with Utah) has proven to be a winner. As its name indicates,
the project is in Spring Valley, which runs north-south for about 110
miles between the Schell Creek and Snake mountain ranges in eastern
"Wind power is really a natural for Nevada," explains Garland. "The
state has solar and geothermal resources which are being developed, and
it really was just a matter of time before wind would be generating
power in Nevada."
A key element for the Spring Valley project was that utility NV Energy
was already working to de-velop a new north-south transmission line.
NV Energy co-developed the One Nevada transmission line (ON Line) with
New York energy developer, LS Power. The 235-mile line connects
Nevada's northern and southern power grids and transmits renewable
power from rural areas, where it is generated, to urban markets.
NV Energy owns 25 percent of the line, which will be delivering power
from the Spring Valley project in the near future. Pattern has a
20-year power purchase agreement with NV Energy for the sale of energy
produced by Spring Valley.
The Spring Valley project also received non-partisan political support
from Democratic Senator Harry Reid and Republican Senator Dean Heller.
"There are also a large number of people within Nevada who strongly
support renewable energy," adds Garland. Just as important, the project
also had good support from the nearby town of Ely. "That community
support means a lot to us," says Garland.
Also supporting Spring Valley Wind was Ken Salazar (until recently the
U.S. Secretary of the Interior). This was crucial since the entire
project was built on Bureau of Land Management land, which falls under
the jurisdiction of the Interior Department.
Pattern Energy has done a number of wind projects on private land. Do
they find developing projects on public land more demanding?
"Absolutely," says Garland. "It's always more comprehensive. In some
ways, you usually do the same amount of work, but things are usually
more expedited with private land.
"The BLM was very supportive of doing the Spring Valley project
cooperatively, but since it is public land, they have more procedures
and requirements. They were tremendously supportive, and they wanted
something to happen if we could do it right. But they held our feet to
the fire, making sure we did it right and were responsive to the
Part of the planning and approvals process included extensive
environmental studies on the part of Pattern Energy. The company put in
a substantial amount of effort to mitigate, as best they could, any
potential impacts of the project, says Garland.
One of the concerns on the project site was pygmy rabbits. As their
name suggests, they are small—you can easily hold a pygmy
rabbit in the palm of your hand. They are difficult to see, but Garland
says whenever a construction crew spotted one, they stopped or
Bats that live in caves in the mountains near the wind farm site were
also a concern. "People were concerned that the bats might fly out
directly into the wind project site, but for the most part, they fly
out of the caves and go south toward farm lands, looking for bugs to
eat," says Garland. Pattern Energy installed a monitoring system from
Florida-based DeTect Inc. that tracks the bats. "We've only had a
limited time to see the results, but so far they've been positive, in
that we have not seen a lot of bat fatalities."
Carrying out construction on the project was veteran wind farm
construction firm, Mortenson Construction.
and approvals process for the Spring Valley wind project included
extensive environmental studies on the part of Pattern Energy. The
company put in a substantial amount of effort to mitigate any potential
impacts of the project.
Pattern Energy has worked with Mortenson on a number of wind projects,
and they bring to the
table what the company is looking for in a construction partner, said
"We want high quality work, and we need to have people who can work
with us to keep costs within budget and the project on schedule. That
does not mean you won't come across problems and need to make
adjustments—we find that the best contractors are the ones
who will work with our construction management team and come up with
good ideas and solutions on how to get around a problem or do something
"Our construction management team has done 30 projects now, so they
know how to communicate with contractors, and they find the best ones
look for solutions, quick decisions, and a reasonable compromise."
Garland added that critical thinking and good problem solving skills
are a must for a contractor. "They need to be able to deal with
unforeseen things and figure out a way forward. There are people who do
that well, and people who do that poorly—and that applies to
both the construction side and the development side."
Garland believes there may be some naiveté in the general
construction world when it comes to looking at building wind projects.
"On the one hand, wind farms are pretty straightforward to
construct—you build road, you build the foundations, you put
in the distribution/collection system, you put the tower up, the
nacelle up, wire it up—and you're done.
"But the business has become very demanding; people are expecting 98
percent availability from wind turbines." To hit that availability
mark, the project needs to be built right. "For example, if you have a
distribution system that includes splicing in the ground that is
shorting out, you can cause lower availability. It's the smaller things
that make a difference between a project working well, and it not
Getting it done right at the construction stage by a well-qualified
contractor is clearly key to a project working well, he says.
"We're relationship oriented, and we go back to the people who deliver
for us. But we also want them to look at how we can save money or new
Sera Maloney of Mortenson was able to do the latter on the Spring Creek
project. Maloney was named a winner of the Be Inspired Awards in the
Innovation in Land Development, Engineering, and Management category.
Sponsored by Bentley Systems, the Be Inspired Awards recognize
outstanding infrastructure projects. The projects are submitted by
Bentley's software users and judged by a jury of independent experts
who select finalists that exemplify innovation, superior vision, and an
unwavering commitment to exceptional quality and productivity.
Mortenson's award submission was based on their ability to effectively
use Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) technology to overcome the
challenges of building on the BLM's environmentally protected lands,
for the Spring Valley project.
Mortenson modeled each stage of construction to optimize the layout of
turbine parts and equipment. Reducing the project footprint by nearly
40 percent per turbine site, it significantly minimized the cultural,
historical, and biological impact of construction.
VDC is a process used to enhance collaboration, reduce time and cost,
and foresee project constraints before they occur. The process uses a
CAD created model—typically created in 3D—to
virtually build the project before construction begins. Mortenson is
said to be one of the few renewable energy contractors using VDC as a
standard pre-planning component in the preconstruction process.
Siemens, which supplied 66 of its 2.3 MW turbines for Spring Creek, is
one of a select group of turbine suppliers that Pattern Energy works
with. Just because Pattern Energy has worked on a large number of wind
projects, does not mean they want a large variety of wind turbines,
"We like the fleet concept, especially as one of the things we are
going to be doing going forward is upgrades. You can do that
incrementally, and in a smart way, if you have some common equipment.
You can make innovations on some turbines, see how they work, and then
make those changes across the fleet.
But if you have different equipment and manufacturers, it may work for
one piece of equipment in one location, and then you may have to come
up with another unique solution for another site."
supplied 66 of its 2.3 MW turbines for Spring Creek, is one of a select
group of turbine suppliers that Pattern Energy works with. Pattern
Energy likes the fleet concept toward turbines, as this approach
facilitates upgrades in the future.
Essentially, working with a smaller group of turbine suppliers gives
them leverage. "We have enough concentration with the equipment vendors
that we deal with that they pay attention to us."
Since they were working on public land, Pattern Energy was dealing with
all three levels of government—federal, state, and county,
right through the project.
Garland said there is no real secret to dealing with government bodies
and agencies in an effective way.
"It's been said before, but it really comes down to the old adage:
early and often communication and consultation. The most important
thing is communicating openly and directly so people understand what
you are doing. It's important that if they have concerns, they feel
they can openly raise them with you—and that you will listen
and be thoughtful in your response.
"That does not mean you can always do what they are asking you to
do—but if you are listening, and there is communication, you
can usually work through issues."
In addition to working with the BLM, they also dealt with the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, local Indian
tribes, and the Sierra Club.
Garland added that communications can be done in a number of ways,
including through web sites, but nothing beats personal involvement and
face-to-face meetings in a community, such as Ely, or with government
Ely is a mining town and has seen its share of booms and busts over the
years. In meetings with community leaders and residents, Pattern Energy
stressed that they are committed to the wind project for the long term,
with the 20-year contract. "They know that they can depend on this to
be a baseline for the next 20 years, that the wind project is going to
be a stable source of economic value to the community," noted Garland.
There were the tangible benefits during construction of the $225
million project, with many local economic spinoffs. In addition, Spring
Valley is expected to generate more than $20 million in tax revenue for
White Pine County and the state of Nevada's Renewable Energy Fund over
the next 20 years.
With the Spring Valley wind project complete, Pattern Energy is looking
for 2013 to be a fairly busy year, mostly due to the extension of the
Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit. With the uncertainty
over whether it was going to be extended, planning was difficult.
Garland said Pattern Energy had to take some calculated risks and have
some projects essentially shovel ready, to take advantage of the
Investment Tax Credit.
"If you don't have a project pretty much ready to go, a one-year
extension does not do you that much good. We have a few like that and
will be pursuing them this year."
In general, the uncertainty around the PTC and the ITC had left the
wind industry in a bit of limbo toward the end of 2012.
"We were hopeful there was going to be an extension, but no one was
sure," says Garland. "And that uncertainty causes real issues with what
you can fund—in particular bidding, offtake arrangements, and
interconnection can take a lot of money. I think the industry was
apprehensive about continuing to put more money into projects without
an understanding of what was happening with the PTC."
While he welcomed the extension, Garland said the U.S. government needs
to look at changing tax policy to best provide incentives for the wind
power industry, long term.
If that's not there, the extension needs to be beyond one year, he
says. "For us, it's important to have some resolution for the longer
term happen sometime this year. And that is especially so for the
manufacturers. A one-year extension does not give the supply chain any
predictability at all.
"I really think we're in an awkward place right now, where damage could
be done to the manufacturing industry in the U.S. We've made these huge
strides of going from 20 percent domestic content for wind projects to
65 or 70 percent—and that is a huge accomplishment.
"But there is a good chance that in a year's time, we are going to be
in a situation that when we go to order equipment, it might have to be
supplied from overseas. That would be tragic for the U.S."
He added that the situation is certainly fixable, with attention from
Congress on a further extension, or the ideal scenario, with the right
tax policy changes.