Ramping up wind
power in Ohio
The State of Ohio is making up for
lost time in developing wind power, with the latest addition to the
wind power portfolio being Iberdrola Renewables' 304 MW Blue Creek wind
By Paul MacDonald
The State of Ohio is abit late to the wind power party, but it seems to
be making up for lost time in a big way.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reports that in the last
quarter of 2011, Ohio was the fastest growing state in wind energy in
the entire nation, growing a stunning 929 percent in the quarter.
The state, which receives over 80 percent of its electricity from coal
powered plants, was starting from a very low base line of wind energy.
By year-end 2011, it had 112 MW of wind power, compared with only 11 MW
at year-end 2010.
The wind power numbers for this year are going to increase further,
with Iberdrola Renewables' recently completed 304 MW Blue Creek wind
farm (in the northwestern part of the state near the Indiana state
line) adding substantially to the wind power tally for Ohio.
Project developer Dan Litchfield noted that when Iberdrola originally
conceived the project, it was actually going to be built in Indiana.
"But we made the decision to move the project into Ohio, and the main
reason was the AEPS," explained Litchfield.
Called an RPS in other U.S. states, AEPS is Ohio's Advanced Energy
Portfolio Standard, requiring that Ohio utilities achieve a 12.5
percent renewable electricity benchmark by 2025. The AEPS also requires
Ohio's utilities to generate or acquire 50 percent of their renewable
energy requirements from generation facilities located in-state,
providing a further incentive for developing renewable energy within
Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy Solutions has already signed up to
purchase 100 MW of the output from the Blue Creek project.
Blue Creek may not have the very strong wind resource that is seen in
other parts of the Midwest, but it has political support through the
AEPS and—an extremely important point—there is easy access
to the grid, through an American Electric Power 345kV line that runs
through the site.
Reflecting the large size of the Blue Creek wind project, it's been a
number of years in the planning. Two predecessor companies, PPM Energy
and Community Energy, started work on the project in late-2006. These
companies were acquired by Iberdrola in 2006 and 2007.
"We put up one met tower and filed an interconnection request into the
PJM network at that time and followed up with additional met towers and
interconnection requests in early 2007," explained Litchfield.
The project gained momentum in 2008 with land leasing moving ahead.
"The project consists of 27,000 acres of leased farm land, so it took a
while for that to come together," says Litchfield. In general, the
project was welcomed by local farmers. "Ninety-nine percent of the
project area is corn, soybean, and wheat fields—from the farmer's
perspective, wind is a new crop they can harvest."
They also moved forward with project engineering, and their permit
application was approved in 2010, with construction starting and
equipment buckets hitting the dirt in
September 2010. Reflecting its size, the site straddles six townships
in two different counties.
While there is a solid business case for building the Blue Creek
project, Litchfield noted that it differs from some of the more robust
wind projects Iberdrola has done in other parts of the U.S.
"It's a class 2 wind site, so it is not one of the windier sites we've
worked on considering that we've done projects in the Dakotas, Iowa,
and Minnesota. But when the pace began to pick up with Blue Creek in
2008, turbine technology had come a long way. So we designed the
project to be ready for taller towers and larger rotors, and
ultimately, we installed Gamesa G-90 turbines, on 100 meter towers.
Since this is not as robust a wind resource as we see in the upper
Midwest, we're using a machine that is designed for this wind resource
to make the project feasible."
Unlike some of the other areas Iberdrola has worked in, which typically
have ridges or some hilly topography, Blue Creek sits primarily on
tableland. The site is extremely flat—and Litchfield emphasizes
the "extremely" part.
"A hill around the site would be about eight feet of elevation," he
That said, Blue Creek is also located on a wind channel with a healthy
wind resource. "It's very wide open, and the wind really howls through
there," says Litchfield.
Most of the 152 Gamesa 2 MW
turbines used on the Blue Creek project were built in neighboring
Pennsylvania, so the transportation travel time to site was fairly
This part of Ohio used to be part of what is called the Great Black
Swamp, which was an extension of Lake Erie, to the east. It was drained
and settled in the second half of the 19th century.
"The farmers have an extensive network of drainage tiles to drain the
farmland, to make it more productive," Litchfield explained. "That was
a bit of a challenge for us with installing our underground cable.
"That drain tile network is the lifeblood of this area," he said. "How
we were going to deal with the drain tile system was the number one,
number two, and number three concern of every farmer that was
considering a wind lease."
Iberdrola had to develop a plan to repair any drainage tiles that were
disturbed by construction of Blue Creek. The company installed a total
of 97 miles of underground power lines, and during the process, carried
out 15,000 drainage tile repairs.
"That is by far the most drainage tile work we've ever done for a
project—and that was just for installation of the collection
system." Much of the drainage tile is very shallow, due to the clay
soil. Some of it was also impacted by heavy construction activity, and
Iberdrola is repairing that as well.
"We're spending millions of dollars on drainage tile with Blue Creek,"
says Litchfield. "The farmers had a lot of concerns at the beginning of
construction, but they're very happy with the way things have
progressed, what we've repaired so far, and what we're going to repair
Since Ohio is fairly heavily populated, Iberdrola had a large group of
landowners to deal with; about 280 landowners total, including
landowners adjacent to the wind turbine sites. That large group of
landowners meant a large communications effort, says Litchfield.
"We put a big team effort into communicating with the landowners. One
of the key things was we had a local office on Main Street in the
nearest major town, Van Wert. People knew they could just drop by and
ask questions." Their construction site management team was in the
field throughout the project and was available to answer questions from
landowners and locals.
They set up a dedicated website, www.iberdrolarenewables.us/bluecreek,
where the company posted all of its permitting documents. The company
wanted to be as transparent as possible and communicate that the
project was going to be compatible with residents and agriculture. "To
date, we've only received a small number of complaints, and most of
them were related to television reception, which we fixed."
Unlike some previous Iberdrola wind projects, there were more
questions, due to wind power being fairly new to Ohio.
"Blue Creek was the first large scale wind project to start
construction in Ohio," notes Litchfield, "and we are the largest wind
project in the state. Although there were five other projects approved
ahead of Blue Creek, we were the first to make it to the finish line
and start construction."
Compared to big wind power states like Illinois or Iowa, there was a
bit of an education process with local residents and regulators on what
to expect with a utility scale project. And the company was very
interested in allaying any concerns.
"It's a new industry for Ohio, and the State of Ohio wanted to make
sure it was done right. It was a very thorough permitting process, and
we had to change some things along the way. The result is a project
that is absolutely compatible with the residents and the primary use of
the area, which is agriculture."
Although the project process went through two governors, representing
the two political parties, it received solid support. "I think it's
fair to say that throughout the process, we've seen bipartisan support
for our project and wind energy in general," said Paul Copleman,
communications manager for Iberdrola.
"The message that has been clear to us is that Ohio legislators are
interested in the economic development that wind projects are proven to
create in their communities," he added.
Counties and towns that have been hit by the economic downturn and a
resulting drop in taxes can see major benefits from a wind farm. In Van
Wert County, where 75 percent of Blue Creek is located, Iberdrola will
be the largest single taxpayer—larger than the next 14 businesses
combined. In addition to the 300 jobs created during construction, it
will create 15 to 20 permanent, high-paying technician jobs..
Being the first major wind project
in the state, it is understandably generating a lot of interest.
"This area is more densely populated than places with wind farms in the
Dakotas, and the wind farm gets a lot of windshield
visibility—we're right on the border with Indiana, and Fort Wayne
(with a population of over a quarter-of-a-million people) is very close
by, so there is a lot of traffic, and people are curious," said
To help explain what the project is and how it works, Iberdrola, with
the help of the Governor's Office and the Ohio Department of
Transportation, installed an information kiosk at a rest stop on U.S.
Route 30, about 300 yards from two of the turbines.
Included in that information are details on the environmental studies
that were carried out in advance of building Blue Creek. Avian studies
were done, as were raptor searches and bat monitoring.
"We also did a mussel survey for some of the streams and creeks that
run through the project area. We found some mussels, and we relocated
them upstream to make sure they were protected," explained Litchfield.
He added that the underground power lines go under streams and creeks,
rather than being trenched, for protection of stream life.
Even though wind farm development is just starting to gear up in Ohio,
the company was able to find the skilled trades people they needed
fairly easily. "But it was a workforce new to wind power construction,
so there was a lot of training that needed to be done with the
specialized work." The good news about wind projects, Litchfield added,
is that a lot of the work is general construction. They have truck
drivers hauling concrete and gravel, and heavy equipment operators
doing the civil work with bulldozers and excavators.
To help kick-start the training that will be required for wind power
technicians to maintain wind turbines in Ohio, Iberdrola made a
financial contribution to the Vantage Career Center in the town of Van
Wert, which provides trades training.
The Blue Creek site is fairly close to major highways and rail lines in
the region, which made it easier to transport construction materials,
heavy equipment, and turbine components. That certainly helped, because
with 152 turbines and 100 meter towers, there were 10 oversized
truckloads per turbine, making for a total of 1520 oversize truckloads
that were delivered to the site during the summer of 2011. Some of the
components were delivered by rail to Van Wert and trucked in from
there. Most of the Gamesa 2 MW turbines were built in neighboring
Pennsylvania, so the transportation travel time to site was fairly
Iberdrola negotiated agreements with the townships to make sure the
roads were protected. The company spent $2.5 million upgrading county
and township roads ahead of construction. "The roads we used have been
repaired and are now in better shape than when we started," says
Blattner Energy was the Balance of Plant contractor on the project and
was responsible for the access roads, foundations, and turbine
erection. PAR Electrical Contractors Inc. was the electrical contractor
and installed the collection system, underground lines, some overhead
lines, and the two substations.
At 304 MW, Blue Creek is the largest single-phase wind power project
Iberdrola has done in the U.S., and a solid team effort was required to
complete it successfully, says Iberdrola's Paul Copleman.
"It comes down to putting together a great team that can handle the
responsibilities that go into such a large project, the roads, the
rail, the 152 machines, and more concrete—100,000 cubic
yards—than we've ever used before on a project."
Success comes down to "miles added on my car," added Dan Litchfield.
"It's driving to the site and spending time in the community. This is a
new type of project for this region, and there were a lot of questions
about wind energy."
Now that a lot of those questions have been answered, Iberdrola is
looking to add further wind power to the region. The company has plans
for another wind project, Dog Creek, which they hope to bring online in
three to five years. The project, which would also be about 300 MW,
would share the substation that was built for Blue Creek. Other
projects are planned in adjacent counties as well.