It takes a team to
build a wind farm
Exergy Development Group, GE, Atlantic
Power, Reunion Power, and Fagen Inc. all worked together to build
Idaho's largest wind farm, the 183 MW Idaho Wind Project, a project
that was divided into 11 different sites in two different regions.
The Idaho Wind Project is the state's largest wind farm to
date—122 turbines stretching across 10,000 acres of
farmland—and was truly a team effort.
The 183 megawatt project creates
enough energy to power 39,700 homes and is the result of a
collaboration between Exergy Development Group, GE Energy Financial
Services, Atlantic Power, Reunion Power, and contractor Fagen Inc.
The wind farm is located in two
different areas—Burley and Hagerman—with 70 miles between.
The122 GE 1.5 MW turbines are split between 11 sites in southern Idaho
(three around the town of Burley and eight around the town of
Hagerman), which gives grid operators more flexibility and makes the
sites more efficient.
Due to Idaho state regulations
regarding the size of renewable energy projects, each of the 11 sites
has a separate agreement with utility Idaho Power.
The $500 million project came in on
time and on budget and was ready for its operational phase by the end
of 2010, with Reunion Power taking over as general manager. Like all
large-scale projects, the real time was spent planning, permitting, and
"We've been developing this project
for five years," says Dustin Shively, energy systems engineer for
Exergy. "Our company believes in an integrated approach. We started by
going out and literally knocking on people's doors, talking to the
landowners, and forming those relationships.
"The relationship with the utility was
formed along the way," he adds, "but part of that was already in place
through previous projects."
There was also all the necessary
permitting on the county level, the environmental permitting, and other
regulatory mandates to be met. The company took its time to make sure
the entire project worked—both from a financial standpoint and
what was best for the surrounding communities.
For example, the eight projects near
Hagerman are on a plateau, and the Snake River is several hundred feet
below. Because the canyon wall is full of bird activity and nesting
areas, setbacks were required. Once they were set, Exergy literally
went the extra distance, going back twice as far as the setbacks
"We are very sensitive to
environmental issues and do very thorough assessments," explains
Shively. "We make every effort to look at the landscape and place our
turbines to maximize their efficiency and respect the surrounding
environment. When someone says ‘Don't go past this line,' we find
it irresponsible to go right up to that line and push it to the limit."
Pushing that limit inevitably leads to strained relations.
"Exergy's approach of doing what
should be done is one of the reasons I work for them," he added, on a
personal note. "It's not a matter of just how quickly can you get it
up, sell it, and move on."
The location of the Idaho Wind Project
was chosen because it met all the criteria—necessary wind speeds,
good distribution and frequency of wind speed, and good connection.
"Transmission is a factor that really
stops a lot of sites that may be a good wind resource," says Shively.
"If it's too far away or the transmission is too congested, you're not
able to interconnect. That's one of the primary reasons some of the
Northern Midwest states, like the Dakotas or Eastern Montana, aren't
full of wind turbines. It's not the resource—it's the
As mentioned before, Idaho Wind
Project is an umbrella for 11 projects. "Each project is independent
with individual land leases, interconnection agreements, and power
off-take agreements. But for purposes of financing and economies of
scale, it worked to make them a consolidated presentation," says
"It's unique," he adds. "I don't ever
remember seeing this kind of layout, but it just comes down to how we
can get these projects online efficiently. This turned out to be the
optimal methodology for moving the projects forward."
Creating partners of the landowners
was also a big piece of the preparation. Shively says it was simply
educating everyone about wind energy. "I'd go out and sit down with
people and talk to them. We would get questions like, ‘Are these
turbines going to interfere with my farming or ranching operations?'
But before I sat down and talked to them, they didn't know the
Education and finding solutions for
the landowners was ongoing throughout the planning process. Shively and
his team talked to people at public meetings and listened to all their
concerns. For example, some farmers were worried that the turbine
towers would interfere with their irrigation pivots.
Those pivots went into Exergy's
mapping. "If we had the flexibility to avoid the pivots and farming
operations, we absolutely did," says Shively.
The farmers also had a lot of issues about roads, worried that the land
would be torn up or unusable. Exergy was clear with them from the start
that there would be roads between the turbines. During construction,
the road had to be wide enough to handle the crane pads, but afterwards
they would be narrowed to 12 or 16 feet.
Fagen Inc., the Engineering, Procurement, and Construction contractor and project manager of the Idaho Wind Project, was able to get the turbines up quickly—they installed 122 GE 1.5 MW turbines in 111 calendar days.
In some cases, the farmers welcomed the addition of roads on their
land. "It's pretty rural country, and now they have vehicle access to
parts of it that they didn't before," says Shively. "But from the
get-go, we anticipate a siting process that incorporates landowner
Overall, he says it's easy for a company like Exergy because part of
their ethos is to work with the community. The one-on-one time with the
landowners put them at ease and allowed them to be involved, instead of
just being a spectator.
Throughout it all, Exergy and GE Financial Services kept up a great
working relationship. "GE is a big company and very organized and
disciplined in the way that they do things. That's good because you
have to have all your ducks in a row, especially when it's a $500
million project," says Shively.
"We worked well together."
When it came time to physically install the 122 GE 1.5 MW turbines,
there were new challenges to deal with—including an unforeseen
Reid Jurgenson of Fagen Inc., Engineering, Procurement, and
Construction contractor and project manager of the Idaho Wind Project,
says several days before his team installed the turbines, a lightning
storm set off a fire that burned hundreds of thousands of acres. The
Idaho Project was in the center of the blaze.
"We watered around the cranes and luckily nothing burned," says
The obstacles hardly slowed the Fagen team. When it was time to install
the turbines, they did it in record time—122 turbines in 111
This was an incredible accomplishment. Particularly because of the
distances between the turbine sites. Even though the Fagen crew had the
towers for the turbines in place, it was still a 2.5-hour drive between
Hagerman and Burley. Once at Burley, the three sites were three to four
miles apart. "The Hagerman site alone is five miles wide and about 17
miles long," says Jurgenson.
"The crew moved large cranes from area to area, and we put the turbines
up as we went," says Jurgenson. "We'd get as many as six to eight
turbines a day completed, provided there was no wind blowing."
Construction of the project provided a major economic boost to the
local economy. "As part of our approach, Exergy is committed to hiring
local contractors whenever possible," says Shively. "This project was a
great economic stimulus to rural Idaho. It created over 300
construction jobs (only 175 were projected) and 25 permanent jobs for
operations over the life of the project."
Exergy is already looking ahead to its next projects. They have over
4,000 megawatts in development, and some of those new projects will be
springing up in Montana, Wyoming, and southern Minnesota.
"We have very far-reaching goals, but they are definitely attainable,"
says Shively. "Our new technology division is advancing a new turbine
design and other innovative energy technologies. We're also moving
projects forward in solar, hydro, anaerobic digestion, and biomass."
Exergy is a pretty dynamic, busy company these days, he notes.
"We have a really good team. We all work in parallel and come together
when we need to.
"I'm excited to be part of a company that is going about renewable
energy in a responsible way," he added.