As the best sites for wind farms continue to get snapped up,
companies are looking at alternative locations for alternative energy
Renewable power development company Invenergy chose privately owned
in West Virginia for its latest wind power project.
Invenergy Wind recently completed the 100.5 MW Beech Ridge project on private forest land, owned by MeadWestvaco Corporation, in West Virginia. The Beech Ridge project has proven successful and could lead Invenergy to look at other private forest land sites for future projects.
the best sites for wind farms continue to get snapped up
by wind farm developers and utilities, a relatively untapped source of
U.S. wind power projects is emerging: the country’s
incredibly large holdings
of privately owned timberlands.
country’s largest forest companies, Weyerhaeuser, owns
millions of hectares in
the wind-rich Pacific Northwest, for example.
developer EverPower recently entered into an agreement with
explore for, and develop, wind energy resources on several of
tree farms—and it has already put forward one proposal.
120 MW Coyote Crest Wind Park would be located on more than 3,000 acres
land in southwestern Washington. The project site is located in a
unpopulated section of Lewis and Pacific Counties that is characterized
primarily by commercial forestry use.
are well advanced in other parts of the country. In West Virginia,
renewable power development company, Chicago-based Invenergy Wind LLC,
completed the 100.5 MW Beech Ridge project on private forest land.
The land is
owned by MeadWestvaco Corporation, a manufacturer of packing products.
Beech Ridge project has proven successful and could lead the company to
other private forest land sites for future projects.
involvement with the West Virginia site actually dates back a number of
to 2003, when it started gathering wind speed data and reviewing
requirements. Generally, the State of West Virginia as a whole has a
resource, and there is potential for further wind power development.
However, many of the best sites in the state are on public lands,
development more challenging than developing on private land.
Ridge site in Greenbrier County, in the southeastern part of the state,
actually been explored for wind development opportunities back in the
Kenetech Windpower, one of the major wind power players in the U.S. at
time, had a number of met towers collecting wind data. This gave
bit of a head start on the wind data gathering process. Invenergy also
existing wildlife studies, in addition to starting their own extensive
that Kenetech had put up were no longer functional by the time we
working on the site,” explained Dave Groberg, vice-president,
eastern U.S., for
Invenergy. “We still needed to go ahead and do our own
monitoring, but we were
able to look at and evaluate some of the data that Kenetech had
felt the site was very competitive—it has some of the
strongest wind speeds available on private land in the state of West
and in general, in the eastern part of the PJM market,” added
Interconnection is a regional transmission organization (RTO) that
the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13
states and the District of Columbia.
the data, it supported that it would be worthwhile moving ahead with
Ridge project on the MeadWestvaco lands.”
Ridge site has a series of interconnected ridges and possesses a number
features that make it attractive for wind power development, reports
“We targeted over 20 miles of ridgeline with the
project,” he explained. “Some
of the key positive factors are that a lot of the ridges were oriented
perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction, and we had good
contributed to the high wind speeds we were seeing. Many of the sites
above 4,000 feet in elevation, and most of the overall project site is
ridges at high elevations can be ideal for keeping wind turbine blades
sometimes there is not a whole lot of space at the top of the ridge.
“It can be
a situation where there is just a narrow bit of dirt and rock at the
top of the
ridge and not much else,” says Groberg. But the Beech Ridge
site had very wide
ridges, so there was sufficient land for wind turbines and the
infrastructure. “These ridges had enough room for us to
safely and efficiently
build roads and turbine pads and put in gathering cables. We were able
achieve a relatively efficient design to the project without going into
unusually high construction costs.”
Ridge turbines are located entirely on land owned by
MeadWestvaco—there are no
other private or public owners.
about 60,000 acres in the area where the project is located,
and a total of 100,000 acres in the region as a whole.
where Beech Ridge is located historically has been, and continues to
actively managed for timber, coal, oil and gas exploration, and hunting
leases—and those are all uses that are compatible with
development of wind energy,” notes Groberg.
to negotiate with a single land owner made the task of getting the land
simpler. But there were still discussions about the impact of a wind
fair amount of talking with MeadWestvaco for them to get comfortable
could let us develop, construct, and operate a wind project without
with their ability to continue to manage the property in the way they
in order to meet their own economic goals.”
had to deal with additional landowners on the larger project. The site
14 miles from an interconnect with the grid, so they had to negotiate
with landowners along the transmission line route. But even there, the
largest landowner is Plum Creek, another large commercial timber land
Plum Creek has
seven million acres
of land in timber producing areas throughout the U.S.
Ridge site is fairly well located—it sits about 20 miles from
interstate. “We had a fairly good public road system leading
up to the site
boundary,” says Groberg.
the timber harvesting and other activities on MeadWestvaco lands, there
good road network already in place.
of the benefits of working with a large timber company
is that they build very good roads,” says Groberg.
“We had to put in some significant upgrades in some
places, but we
were able to use the existing road system for the most part.” Timber
harvesting requires some fairly heavy
equipment, and the road system was built to handle big and heavy loads,
perhaps not quite as big as nacelles and sections of wind turbine
were also heavier duty due to the extensive coal mining in the region,
equipment and wind turbine components were transported to the site,
construction crews had some pretty poor weather to contend with.
“We had a lot
of rain when we were doing the initial site prep in the late spring and
summer,” says Groberg. “This was one of the
snowiest winters on record in West
Virginia, and we had some delays and ended up building right through
Try snow drifts of over 10 feet.
There was a
minimum amount of turbine re-siting with Beech Ridge. “There
are always some
adjustments you make in the field, and this was no different in that
of the project went out to bid, with White Construction Inc. handling
portion and wind turbine tower erection, and Aldridge Electric managing
construction of the collection system, the substation, and the
opted for GE 1.5 MW SLE turbines on the project. “They are a
good fit for the
site,” says Groberg. “We have a long history of
using GE equipment going back
to the gas turbines we use. The majority of our projects have been
the GE 1.5 MW units. It’s a proven, reliable
In terms of
project approvals, West Virginia has an established siting process for
power plants—all projects have to go through a well-defined
process with the state Public Service Commission to get a siting
there are several other wind power projects in the state, Beech Ridge
first wind power project to be permitted under some new revised
“Some of what we did was new to the PSC and its staff, but it
Groberg said that based on Invenergy’s experience working on
projects around the U.S., West Virginia has some of the most rigorous
ancillary permits had to come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Building permits
be obtained from the county.
has been the subject of litigation over its possible impact on the bat
population in the area. But Invenergy says it has done its
some—related to the environment. “We
arranged the timing of our construction to avoid impacting the
habitat for bats. And we are in the process of obtaining an incidental
permit that will include design and operating requirements that avoid,
minimize, and mitigate the potential impact to endangered bat species
reduce impacts for non-listed bats too.
all along that we believe that wind energy impact and conservation are
compatible,” added Groberg. “We believe that as we
continue to learn more about
the way that bats and turbines interact, we will be able to develop and
sites like Beech Ridge in a manner with acceptable impacts on bats and
says that with the success of Beech Ridge and other projects on private
forestlands, this will be an area of interest going forward for wind
developers. “With the other uses that are there already,
it’s a good fit with
wind farms,” he says. “We’re starting to
see more wind farms developed on
commercial timberland across the country.”
In terms of
Invenergy’s wind power projects, Beech Ridge (with its 100.5
MW capacity) falls
about in the middle, in terms of size.
is one of the largest independent wind developers in the United States.
placed 20 wind generating facilities in operation, representing an
generation capacity of over 2,000 MW, in North America and Europe.
MW of Invenergy projects are currently under construction, 750 MW are
contract, and nearly 100 projects are in active development in the
States, Canada, and Europe.
building a portfolio of utility scale projects throughout the U.S. in
about every part of the country. We’re active pretty much
everywhere there is
potential for wind power,” says Groberg. This includes
projects in about a
dozen states: from New York in the east and Illinois in the Midwest, to
in the south and Washington in the Pacific Northwest, as well as
Colorado and Oregon. And now, West Virginia.
is likely to be a lot of opportunity for further wind power development
private timberlands, Groberg agrees with many industry watchers, saying
real challenge for the industry is finding transmission capacity.
industry has done a good job of building wind power on the most
first and, as a result, there is not a lot of room left on the
system upgrades are essential to further long term wind power
also seeing turbine technology improvements,” he added.
“We’re starting to see
turbines that are more productive at sites with lower wind resources.
up the potential of generating wind power in areas that the industry
considered before, and these areas may still have transmission capacity
Renewable Energy Standard (RES) still remains a possibility, which
the industry considerably. Invenergy is very active with the American
Energy Association—the company’s president and CEO
Michael Polsky (an advocate
of an RES) is on the AWEA board
wind power industry has come a long way on the back of the renewable
requirements at the state level,” says Groberg.
“But the next logical step is
some kind of federal standard.”