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New Jersey Builds Wind Power-in Kansas

New Jersey's NJR Clean Energy Ventures' 48-MW Alexander Wind farm may be half a continent away in Kansas, but it's the largest wind farm to date for the company, and some of the power from the project is going to Internet giant Yahoo!

By Vicky Boyd

Although it's half a continent away from their home base in New Jersey, a 48.3-megawatt Kansas wind farm that was permitted, but not yet constructed, met the acquisition criteria of NJR Clean Energy Ventures (NJRCEV), prompting the publicly traded company to purchase the project.

"We acquire projects in the latter stages of development that are ready to build," explained Chris Savastano, managing director of development for NJRCEV.

"NJRCEV is focused on investing in distributed clean energy projects. The Alexander Wind Farm in Kansas met our criteria with regard to all of the specific attributes we look for in a project. In addition to meeting our financial requirements, it also supports the local community and strengthens relationships with the farmers and the landowners, which are attributes we look for in all of our projects."

The wind farm's location near Rush, Kansas, takes advantage of wind resources in the central U.S. corridor that stretches from Iowa south to Texas.

Although Kansas itself doesn't offer incentives for renewable energy development, Savastano noted the federal government offers production tax credits, which are based on the actual kilowatt energy output of the turbines.

The Alexander Wind Farm, located about 120 miles northwest of Wichita, was the third and largest deal between NJRCEV—the unregulated distributed power subsidiary of New Jersey Resources—and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based OwnEnergy.

The first was the Montana-based 9.72-MW Two Dot Wind Farm, placed into service in June 2014. The second, the 20-MW Carroll Area Wind Farm about 65 miles northwest of Des Moines, Iowa, came online in spring 2015.

These arrangements did not happen by coincidence. NJRCEV invested in OwnEnergy in 2012 with the ability to have a first look at projects in the development pipeline, Savastano said.

The $85 million Alexander Wind Farm and the other wind farms were balance-sheet financed with no outside project or tax-equity financing, he said.

Through a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA), the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities agreed in February 2014 to buy 25 MW of the energy the project would generate. The agreement is expected to save ratepayers an average of $900,000 annually over its 20-year life. The board currently serves about 65,000 electric and 59,000 water customers in Wyandotte County, Kansas.

 
  

The remainder of the power will be purchased through a 15-year PPA with Sunnyvale, California-based Internet company Yahoo Inc., to offset much of its energy use in the Great Plains region.

Development of the Alexander Wind Farm dates back to 2009. The 48.3-MW size was already established when NJRCEV acquired the project in 2014. Frequently "sizing has to do with the amount of land and its topography, which drive how many turbines you can put on a given site," Savastano said. "In addition, sometimes there are interconnection constraints with the utility. With this particular wind farm, all of those things were factored into the size of the project."

OwnEnergy had taken care of most of the developing and permitting work up front, including soil erosion permits; local, state, and federal permits; endangered species surveys; geological surveys; and Federal Aviation Administration approval. OwnEnergy had also negotiated leases with 17 landowners for the 7,000 acres on which the turbines were built.

"It was at that point that NJRCEV took over, conducting additional geotechnical studies," said Mark Valori, NJRCEV managing director of project and asset management. The studies showed that some subsurface soils required additional rock to be brought in, to create firm footings for a few of the concrete turbine foundations.

Minneapolis-based M.A. Mortenson Co. acted as the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor on the Alexander Wind Farm project as well as the earlier Carroll Area Wind Farm. In addition, Mortenson was responsible for all civil work, including construction of roads to bring the components from commercial roadways to the various farm locations.

In turn, Mortenson hired subcontractors for some of the electrical work. Lawrenceville, Georgia-based Sentry Electrical Group Inc. was responsible for the internal wiring within each tower, and J.F. Edwards Construction Co. of Illinois handled the external wiring that linked the 21 turbines to the substation and ultimately to the grid.

 
 M.A. Mortenson Co. acted as the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor on the Alexander Wind Farm project. The project has 21 SWT-2.3-108 wind turbines that are part of Siemens' G2 platform of onshore geared products.
  

As part of the development process, OwnEnergy had compiled a significant amount of wind data. That information was used to select turbine size, tower height, and placement, Savastano said.

"Based on that, we looked at different turbines to match the output to the type of wind that's shown on the study, to optimize the turbine production," he said.

The project involves 21 SWT-2.3-108 wind turbines that are part of Siemens G2 platform of onshore-geared products.

The three-piece towers were fabricated in India and shipped to the west coast of the U.S., where they were offloaded onto trucks for transport to the site. The remaining components were made at Siemens plants in the U.S., with the blades manufactured in Ft. Madison, Iowa; the nacelles assembled in Hutchison, Kansas; and the gearboxes manufactured in Elgin, Illinois. The SCADA (System Communication and Data Acquisition) computers and software came from a Siemens facility in Denmark.

As part of the sales arrangement, Siemens conducted a transportation study to determine what, if any, modifications were needed along the transport route to ensure components would arrive at the site when Mortenson needed them. Mortenson took responsibility for getting the components to the individual foundations.

"Part of the study actually involved using a test truck, and we found we did have to make improvements to the local roads and take down some stop signs and some power lines," Valori said.

As with many projects, the actual labor was a mix of contractor employees and local labor. "Typically, Mortenson has their own supervisors that they bring on site," he said. "These supervisors like to work with a lot of local folks, so they go to the local IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] hall to supplement the staff with additional local resources."

 
  

Construction began in June 2015 with building of gravel access roads. One at a time, the foundations were excavated and conduits put in place before the concrete was poured, Valori said. Depending on the weather, concrete typically took 21 days to dry and cure before any weight could be put on it.

Somewhat challenging were the daytime temperatures in central Kansas—105 to 110 degrees, he said. To address this, they assembled a concrete batch plant on site.

"We produced the concrete on site and then trucked it to the foundation," Valori said. "It typically takes 60 to 70 truckloads for each foundation. All of that was done at night so we didn't have the heat of the day, and we could keep the concrete cooler."

Once the concrete set, workers pulled wires through the conduits and then trenched from one site to the next.

The first of the three tower segments was erected directly on top of the foundation, with the two subsequent pieces lifted by crane on top. The crane then lifted the nacelle box, where it is installed on the top part of the tower.

Crews assembled the three 150-foot-long fiberglass blades to the hub and rotor on the ground, and the entire unit was then lifted and secured in place at the top of the tower.

Rather than construct the turbines assembly style, Valori said they were built one at a time to make the most efficient use of the few available tall cranes.

"There are only so many of these types of cranes in the state, and typically they rent them ahead of time," he said. "They reserve them six months ahead of time for a two-month construction project. And it takes a few days to assemble the crane. We like to have an installation finished and then move on. It's a large crane and has to be taken down before moving."

Although no grid improvements were needed to receive the electricity, a substation was constructed to step up the incoming power to 230 kV from 34.5 kV before tying into the Southwest Power Pool Midwest Energy transmission system.

Valori said the system was relatively small at 48 MW, allowing them to bring the farm online in one step rather than phases.

The farm went online in December 2015, and he said, "It's been performing very well—we're actually above plan."

Although NJRCEV doesn't have any other Kansas wind farms on the drawing board, it does have the 39.9-MW Ringer Hill Wind Farm currently under construction in Pennsylvania, Savastano said. Like the other two wind farms, Ringer Hill is an OwnEnergy-developed project acquired by NJRCEV.

 


July/August 2016