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Familiar ground for building wind power

RES Americas was returning to familiar ground when it built the 267-MW Tucannon River Wind Farm for Portland General Electric—it's the sixth wind power project constructed by RES in the adjoining Columbia and Garfield counties in southeastern Washi

By Paul MacDonald

The states of Washington and Oregon continue to be leaders in wind power in the U.S.

The two states have consistently been in the top five wind producers among U.S. states in the last several years. At the end of 2014, Oregon had 3,153 MW of installed wind power capacity, and Washington had 3,075 MW of wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

One of the region's major utilities, Oregon-based Portland General Electric, has had great success signing customers up for its renewable power program. The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has assessed leading utility green power programs and developed "Top 10" rankings of utility green power programs. Ranked by renewable energy sales (megawatt-hours/year), Portland General Electric is in the top spot, by selling over a million megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable energy through its voluntary green power program. Comprised of three regionally-sourced renewable power products, the program now serves more than 109,000 customers, ranking first in the U.S. for total number of participating renewable power customers and megawatt-hours delivered, according to NREL.

At the same time, PGE has been ramping up its renewable power in its generation fleet to help meet Oregon's Renewable Portfolio Standard. The new 267-MW Tucannon River Wind Farm near Dayton, Washington, helped PGE meet the 2015 goal of Oregon's RPS, which requires the utility to supply 15 percent of its customers' electricity from qualified renewable resources by 2015, and 25 percent by 2025.

With 116 turbines, Tucannon River is PGE's second fully owned and operated large-scale wind project.

Tucannon River Wind Farm is located on 20,000 acres near the town of Dayton, in southeastern Washington. The new wind farm complements PGE's existing portfolio of wind resources located in Eastern and North-central Oregon: Biglow Canyon Wind Farm, which is fully owned and operated by PGE; and power purchase agreements for the output of the Klondike II and Vansycle Ridge wind farms. By securing wind power from different geographic locations, the fluctuations of individual wind plants is reduced because the facilities are less likely to cycle up and down simultaneously.

Tucannon River was built for PGE by general contractor and independent renewable power developer Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc. (RES Americas), using 2.3 MW Siemens wind turbines. Power generated at Tucannon River is brought to PGE customers via a new interconnection at Central Ferry Substation constructed by the Bonneville Power Administration. The plant was completed on time and on budget under fixed-price contracts, with final construction costs expected to be approximately $500 million.

RES Americas served as the Balance of Plant (BOP) construction contractor for the Tucannon project. Construction of the project began in September 2013 and was completed in December 2014.

The Tucannon River wind farm is actually the sixth project constructed by RES in the adjoining Columbia and Garfield counties in this part of Washington, so RES is familiar with the region and the local governments. RES Americas was the original developer of the nearby Lower Snake River wind farm and sold the development assets to Puget Sound Energy (PSE), which subsequently assumed the role of owner and developer of the project. RES also performed BOP construction on the 343-MW Lower Snake River wind project, which was completed in 2012.

PGE acquired the development rights to the Tucannon River project from Puget Sound Energy Inc.

Chris Fox, Tucannon River director of construction and acting project manager for RES, noted that while RES first got involved with the project in late-2012, they had also been involved in the permitting of Tucannon River a few years previous, adding to their familiarity with the project. With its distance from other projects in the region, such as Lower Snake River, Tucannon River was not able to benefit from any sharing of infrastructure, such as access roads. "There wasn't really anything that could be shared in terms of infrastructure," Fox said. Some 40 miles of access roads were built on the ridgelines of the 20,000-acre site.

Fox noted that they were dealing with two counties, Garfield and Columbia, which they had dealt with before, such as on the Lower Snake River project. In terms of moving turbine components and construction materials to the site, they were able to make good use of the existing state and county road system in the area. The project itself is entirely in Columbia County.

 
  

"We have a lot of experience delivering large components, on projects such as Tucannon River. But partly because of how the project was laid out and generally how the county road system webbed through the project, there was still a challenge in that the infrastructure was not designed for super loads—the larger loads of wind turbine components or the crane components.

"RES and PGE had to do a lot of work assessing and evaluating the existing county road infrastructure, and that led to a number of no-go areas, areas that we had to avoid, mostly due to dated bridges." All of this involved working closely and cooperatively with county road and engineering officials.

"In Columbia County, specific to the Tucannon River project, we have a long history of working with county residents, and we have a lot of experience both with landowners and local officials," explained Fox. "We knew a lot of the landowners from previous projects RES had worked on."

PGE was the lead on community liaison, scheduling meetings in the community about the Tucannon River project, and RES supported those efforts.

"RES and PGE worked with the landowners and the county to provide daily updates and held meetings with them as certain critical times approached, like harvest season," said Fox. Landowner holdings vary in size in this part of Washington; some larger landowners had as many as 50 turbines on their land, while others had in the one-10 turbine range.

With the experience RES has in building wind farms in Washington, the company knows the turf, so to speak.

"We have a lot of experience building this size of project in Washington State," says Fox. "When we look at a project of this size, we typically break it down into zones or priority areas depending on the project, and that facilitates better tracking. When you are tracking something in the order of 116 turbines, it could be easy to get lost in the details." But RES was all over the details.

Again, depending on the project, they will break it down into groups of 10 to 30 turbines.

"With Tucannon River, we had five zones, each of which was separated geographically, that we tracked. A lot of the grouping has to do with the electrical infrastructure, the circuit layout, and how those circuits will be powered," explained Fox. "We look at constructing a project from the perspective of when we get to the point where we are erecting turbines, we can energize full circuits of turbines and that aids in the commissioning of the project."

Tucannon River involved 116 Siemens SWT-2.3-108 wind turbines, with rotor diameters of 108 meters. The scope of supply included the delivery and installation of the 116 wind turbines as well as a five-year service and maintenance agreement.

Siemens assembled the 116 nacelles and hubs at its nacelle assembly facility in Hutchinson, Kansas. The 348 blades for the Tucannon River project were manufactured at the company's plant in Fort Madison, Iowa. The Lower Snake River project also uses Siemens turbines.

The planning and organization on such a large project is key to an efficient construction process and a successful project, says Fox.

"You wouldn't really get anywhere without it on a project this size—there are so many different moving parts and so many different aspects to the project.

"With this being a Balance of Plant contract, RES was not supplying the turbines-they were being supplied by the owner. One of the largest logistical challenges is managing that process cooperatively—the infrastructure that RES is building and aligning the deliveries of the wind turbines, which was managed by PGE. It's absolutely critical to have a strategy that involves coordination throughout the project."

 
 With construction of major wind power projects such as Tucannon River, there really is no template that can be applied-each project is different and brings its own unique challenges, says Chris Fox, Tucannon River director of construction and acting project manager for RES Americas.
  

That extends not only to RES and PGE, but to the dozens of other companies that are involved with such a large project.

With the turbines, the components were moved directly to each turbine site; there was no laydown yard. "The laydowns were really at each individual turbine location, and we then tried to erect them as quickly as possible—any time a turbine is on the ground, it is not generating revenue," explained Fox.

In terms of sourcing construction materials and equipment, RES went to the Tri-Cities—three neighboring cities: Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland in southeastern Washington—or farther north, to Spokane. "A lot of our iron and manpower came out of those two locations." The familiarity with the region and the large amount of wind power work RES has done in Washington also paid off here. "We feel it gives us a great advantage," says Fox.

Among the major companies involved with the project were: Roads - Goodfellow Brothers Inc. (Oregon); Foundations - Narum Concrete Construction, Inc. (Walla Walla, WA); MV Collection System - Robinson Brothers Construction, Inc. (Vancouver, WA); Substation — Applied High Voltage LLC (New York); O&M Building — Apollo Inc. (Pasco, WA); and Transmission Line — American Energy Inc. (Dayton, WA).

Fox described the Tucannon River site as both familiar to the company and unique. "The hallmark geographically of this part of Washington is rolling hills and agriculture, with lots of wheat and green peas." All of the turbines were located on agricultural land.

"But one unique aspect was that the defined ridgelines were more on the northern side of the project site, closer to the Tucannon and Lower Snake Rivers (which had created these ridgelines over long periods of time). The southern portion of the site was more rolling hills, with the turbines placed on smaller ridgelines."

Fox noted that each of the wind projects that RES works on has environmental considerations; with Tucannon River, there were protected species and avian concerns.

"There was active monitoring through the project, and audits were performed to ensure that there was no disturbance in active nesting areas." They also had to comply with state environmental considerations at two river crossings—over the Tucannon and the Pataha rivers.

"The crossings were for our overhead line. There is also general stormwater and erosion control that was ongoing throughout construction, and we have stormwater pollution prevention plans and use Best Management Practices to control and mitigate any erosion."

RES usually has at least one person on site as environmental manager, and they also engage outside consultants.

Again, since RES was familiar with the region, they knew what the wind and weather conditions were like around Dayton. "We also did a lot of pre-work with respect to wind, and we were pretty accurate in our predictions, so I would say that wind conditions were not a special challenge on the Tucannon River project." That said, they had two heavy wind storms that blew through the site, causing some infrastructure damage that they were able to repair.

Fox says that in taking on construction of major wind power projects such as Tucannon River, there really is no template that can be applied-each project is different and brings its own unique challenges.

"There were plenty of challenges, but we overcame all of them, and I think we were able to do that with the collective work of PGE, RES, Siemens, RES' sub-contractors, and the landowners—we really worked well as a team and worked hard to overcome the challenges."

Larger projects such as Tucannon offer some economies of scale and the opportunity to really get the construction "machine" up to speed and operating efficiently. "We prefer larger-size projects," says Fox. "There are always learning curves on projects, and on larger projects you can address the learning curve and then enjoy the efficiencies and achieve the economies of scale."

With the huge wind power projects in this part of Washington, there is now an infrastructure in place for building and servicing such projects. There is also a familiarity with wind power and the benefits it brings to a region.

"It's great to walk into that with a new project because the officials are prepared and so are we—we know what they are looking for from us, and they know how to address our needs."

 


July/August 2015