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Small wind sites—big opportunities

Four Nova Scotia wind projects totaling 24 megawatts are demonstrating how smaller projects can together create a sizable wind portfolio and add value to the community.

By Diane Mettler

Four small Nova Scotia wind projects might not look like much individually, but combine them into an overall 24-megawatt project and now you've got something that companies like juwi Wind Services Canada, Vestas-Canadian Wind Technology, and H.B. White Canada Corporation will work together to make happen.

The four sites are the 10-megawatt Pockwock Community Wind Project in Halifax; the six-megawatt Millbrook Community Wind Project in Truro; the four-megawatt Truro-Heights Community Wind Project also in Truro; and the four-megawatt Whynotts Community Wind near Bridgewater. Together they use twelve Vestas V100-2.0 MW turbines and produce enough energy to sustain approximately 4,000 homes.

"Within the Nova Scotia COMFIT (Community Feed-In-Tariff) program, there are a number of small opportunities where it is tough to get the economies of scale with a single project," said Mark Marion, juwi director of construction. "But combine a handful of projects into a portfolio, and you can make it work."

When pulling together multiple sites, the requirements multiply as well, including specific COMFIT-program requirements and partners. Each site needed community ownership, a financing party had to be located, and there had to be land available near distribution lines, as COMFIT awards are related to space available on the distribution lines.

"Luckily, the community partners didn't necessarily need to be someone that lives near the site," explains Marion. "For the two Truro projects, one of the partners is the Millbrook First Nation, and they are right there. But the community partner for the other Truro project is the Eskasoni First Nation, and they're located farther east."

Once Firelight Infrastructure Partners came on as equity partner for all four projects, RFPs went out with a plan to build during the summer of 2014.

On the bright side, there were fewer landowners for all four sites than are often found at one site.

"Whynotts had one landowner, and Pockwock had one landowner, which is rare and really nice," says Marion. "The two Truro projects have one landowner, which is unique, and all the landowners were very supportive.

"All our partners were great, including Nova Scotia Power," says Marion. "Everyone was business-oriented and patient with us, especially when we needed to work something out."

 
  

All the partners had a common goal-to avoid building during the winter. They worked together, contracts were signed, and clearing work started in March 2014.

Permitting and environmental assessments began early on at each of the sites. Luckily, it went smoothly and resulted in only a couple of the turbines having to be slightly re-sited-one to avoid wetland impacts. It required some of the siting work to be re-done, but not an entire new environmental assessment.

H.B. White was selected as the construction contractor. "White is a well known North American wind energy construction company, and we saw real value in White's competitive pricing, capacity, and previous Nova Scotia experience," said Marion.

Adam Furer, H.B. White's field project manager, who was in charge of the project, explains they broke ground in May 2014. "The challenges for the construction were the logistics of building each small project and moving to the next with the substantial travel distance between the projects-roughly 100 kilometers.

"It was tough coordinating deliveries of equipment and turbines and just day-to-day scheduling of the manpower, determining when they would transfer from one project to the other project without losing a scheduled workday."

At the peak of construction, and for several months from July to September, there were approximately 100 people working at the various sites. "Coordinating deliveries and manpower worked out pretty well," says Furer. "There were some hiccups, but we made it work."

H.B. White rented two cranes in Nova Scotia for offloading the turbines. "One was an AC500 crane and the other was an AC300 crane," explains Furer. "Then we rented an LR1600 crane from Ontario to do our main erection of the turbines-Vestas V100s at 95 meter hub height."

Marion adds, "One of the big things that helped was that we were able to ship all the turbines at once, bringing them to the Port of Halifax and then sending them out as needed to the project sites. If we were buying just two turbines, I can't imagine we'd have been able to make it work economically."

 
Erecting the turbines for the Nova Scotia projects wasn’t an easy task, in part because of the terrain. At the sites, there’s a lot of hard rock—granite and slate. Contractor H.B White did not have to do any blasting, but they did a fair bit of rock hammering. 
  

H.B. White was pleased to be able to use a substantial amount of local labor. In addition to hiring people from local unions, they were able to hire individuals from First Nations unions.

They were also able to find local Vestas turbine technicians. "Like other projects where local employees are hired, it sometimes requires some training," says Furer. "There was a little bit of a challenge for the local craft there-wind is somewhat new to Nova Scotia. It's been around, but to do large-scale projects, there was somewhat of a learning curve. All the union workers performed well, though."

Erecting the turbines wasn't an easy task in part because of the terrain, as Marion sums up. "At our sites, there's a lot of hard rock-granite and slate. We didn't do any blasting, but there was a lot of rock hammering."

A hydraulic excavator hammer was used to remove the rock. Another challenge was that all the sites were wooded areas that required clearing.

Despite the distances, the coordination efforts, and the rocky and woody landscape, there was a bright side to construction-great weather.

"We had below normal rainfall totals," says Furer. "When we showed up there, everybody said that it was going to rain a lot, but we had really good weather days. The month of May we got a little rain that slowed us down a little bit, and in June, July, August, and September, the weather was favorable for doing the erection portion and finishing up some roads."

 
The challenges for the construction project overall were the logistics of building each small project and moving to the next with the substantial travel distance between the projects—roughly 100 kilometers. At the peak of construction, there were 100 people working at the various sites. 
  

Even with the good weather, there were some delays that couldn't be avoided. To help make up the time, a couple of pro-active steps were taken to trim time off the schedule.

First, Nova Scotia Power helped make connection to the grid go smoothly. "Even though we had to wait on a turbine certification, which wasn't anyone's fault, Nova Scotia Power let us energize our switches to the first switch on the collections system, which ensured an appropriate level of safety and also didn't require that they return to site when we energized the turbines," explains Marion.

In addition, Vestas helped keep things on track by pre-commissioning the turbines. "Vestas started their testing activities with a portable generator, allowing them to test the system and the turbines. If there was anything wrong, or there was a part that needed to be replaced, they could do that ahead of time. It was a little bit of an extra expense, but we thought that it helped everything go smoothly, so when everything was ready to go online, we were just able to do it," says Marion.

The four sites were completed in mid-November 2014. Nova Scotia Power is purchasing the power that will flow into the local communities, but there is also an added monetary benefit to the people as well.

One percent of the project's revenue will go into the respective community accounts, which will be distributed by a local panel. "There's no ownership requirement on the project," explains Marion. "It's one percent that goes to folks living in the area, and they can decide how to use it." Although it's too early to tell exactly how much the one percent amount will be, it will likely be in the thousands of dollars.

Ernie Saunders, juwi's site manager during construction, is now the operation's site manager. He was an obvious, well-qualified choice, as he had worked for Vestas for nine years. "We do have a service contract with Vestas as well, so Vestas will have folks taking care of the turbines, at least for the five-year agreement with them," says Marion.

H.B. White is pleased that, despite the distances that people and equipment were moved about, it was an extremely safe operation from start to finish.

"There were no recordable injuries on the project. And there was very little vandalism," says Furer. "A lot of wind farms have vandalism done during construction. In fact, a project down the road from us was vandalized multiple times. But we had almost zero incidents."

In the end, despite the challenges, the Nova Scotia COMFIT project was worth the extra effort and was a perfect solution for the small sites. Combining the small sites into one larger project created economies of scale that translated into clean energy and other monetary benefits for local communities for decades to come.

 


March/April 2015