Plugging in to the
community for wind power
development and construction of Maryland's first wind power
project—the 70 MW Criterion wind project—involved
Constellation Energy getting plugged in to the local community in a big
Sometimes, getting a wind power project plugged in to the local
community can involve some bull—four-legged bull, that is.
|The 28 Clipper
2.5-megawatt wind turbines were erected along an eight-mile section of
Backbone Mountain, a ridgeline within the Appalachian Mountain range.
The elevation is fairly high, between 3100 and 3200 feet.
was the case with Constellation Energy's Criterion wind power
project in rural Maryland, the first operational wind power project in
the state. To underline the utility's commitment to the town of Oakland
and the townspeople, the company purchased one of the grand champion
steers at the local 4-H livestock sale—and promptly donated
the steer back to the 4-H.
reached out to the community in a number of different ways, to
show them that we are there for the long term, and that we want to help
support events that are important to people in Oakland," explains
Criterion facility manager, Don Shilobod.
is now a 70 MW project turning its turbine blades had its origins
back in 2001/2002, when wind turbine manufacturer Clipper Windpower
initiated wind studies on the site in western Maryland. The studies
took about four years to complete. "By 2006, Clipper had come up with
some average wind speed velocities, and working the numbers, they
realized it would be a good wind project site," says Shilobod.
Energy (based in Baltimore, at the other end of Maryland)
became aware of the project. "The fact that it was a renewable energy
project and that it was right here in Maryland really fit well, and it
was an attractive project for the company," explained Shilobod. They
acted on it quickly, approving the purchase of the development project
Constellation does some of its own project development work,
Shilobod explained that it has a blended approach, with some projects
being initiated by the company and others purchased from project
Constellation has a development team, and team members are
always on the lookout for projects. They have extensive contacts with
development companies, so they know what is going on within the
industry, and which projects are being developed.
will look at these projects to see if they fit the strategic
growth of Constellation, where a project is in a region where
electrical power is needed or where revenues are going to be strong,"
says Shilobod. "If there is interest on our part, we'll ask more
questions about the development and the project, and then perform due
diligence on the equipment, energy contracts, fuel contracts, whatever
is required. We're always looking for projects that fit our long term
plan for growth and power generation."
electrical demand has been constrained of late due to the
economic downturn, Constellation has a long term
horizon—which is appropriate, when you consider the company
has its roots as the nation's first gas light utility. It has since
evolved into one of the largest energy companies in America, with
12,000 megawatts of generation capacity. It had revenue of $14.3
billion in 2010.
power generation fleet has assets in Maryland,
Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania,
Alabama, California, Utah, and Alberta, Canada.
company's growing clean-energy portfolio includes approximately
1,000 megawatts of renewable power generation owned or under contract,
including utility-scale solar, hydro, wind, and biomass power plants.
also works with commercial customers to develop
distributed solar solutions. Approximately 60 megawatts of solar
installations owned and operated by Constellation have been completed
or are under development for customers.
was plenty of solid wind power criteria for building Criterion
Wind on this site in western Maryland. "We have a fairly steady wind
source," says Shilobod. "The annual average wind speed is 8.5 meters
per second. The summer is kind of a valley season, with generation
lowest during June through August. But it starts to pick up again in
September, with October, November, and December being strong months,
right through to February."
28 Clipper Liberty 2.5-megawatt wind turbines are sited along an
eight-mile section of Backbone Mountain, a ridgeline within the
Appalachian Mountain range. The elevation is fairly high, between 3100
and 3200 feet. "We're not at the peak height of the ridgeline, but
we're pretty darn close," says Shilobod. The site is in the far western
part of Maryland—geographically, the far west part of the
state has a panhandle, with West Virginia surrounding it on three sides.
this was the first wind power project for Maryland, Constellation
undertook a bit of an education process with state and local government
officials. It was quick to get support at the state level, says
Shilobod. "The state government and the state legislature were excited
to hear about a wind project being built in Maryland, and they were
strong proponents of renewable energy in the state."
He said there was some controversy at the local level about a wind
project, with concern about the impact wind turbines might have on the
viewscape of the ridgeline. Tourism is a major industry in the area,
with the Deep Creek Lake Area attracting boaters and hikers. But the
company, he said, went the distance with local people to explain the
benefits of the project, and that it would have a minimal impact. "We
had pretty widespread outreach to the community."
Constellation took over the land easements that Clipper had arranged
with local landowners for the project. There are a total of about 25
landowners involved with the entire project, about half of which have
turbines sited on their property.
"They were on board with the project from the very beginning," says
Shilobod. "And our outreach to them was immediate upon Constellation
closing the deal for the project.
"We kept them informed, in advance, of the groundbreaking and
construction, along with the local government, the county
commissioners, the roads department, the local planning boards, and the
local sheriffs. All facets of local government were informed of the
progress of the project." Many in local government understood, and
appreciated, the project and the tax revenue, jobs, and economic
benefits the wind project would bring.
"We had to apply for building permits and grading permits, so this
brought us into contact with local government almost immediately, and
we worked closely with them. We had many oversized
loads—large tower sections, turbine
components—travelling on the local highways and secondary
roads. We kept local government officials informed of the schedules
coming up and asked for local assistance from the local sheriffs and
state police." Illustrating their commitment to the community, the
company and its employees got involved with local charities, the arts
festival—and the aforementioned 4-H livestock sale.
They hired local workers and, as much as possible, sourced construction
materials such as gravel, cement, concrete, and rebar, locally within
the county. "Our spending in the community approached $10 million,"
says Shilabod. Significant numbers when you consider that as the
largest town in the area, Oakland has only about 2,000 residents.
The construction project itself was divided into three different
sections. A look at the North Section shows some of the challenges
construction crews faced. The North Section has 11 turbines and mature
forests on top of the ridge. A logging road had been built into the
area, but it was just a single lane road, so it had to be widened and
When they started the road work in April 2010, there was still snow on
the ground, reports Shilobod. "We were coming out of one of the
heaviest winters the area had seen, with close to 295 inches of snow
for the year. The excavators had to dig through snow, ice, and mud.
Clearing the land for the turbines went fairly quickly, but it was
really the access road that was the challenge.
"Before we brought the turbines in, we had to bring in heavy equipment,
trucks to haul debris, logging trucks, and grinders to grind up tree
stumps that were cleared from the sites. Once the rock excavators cut
the road, they then had to break up the hard stone beneath the soil for
the turbine foundations."
Having a lot of rock worked in their favor to some degree. "When you're
able to pour the concrete foundation on solid bedrock, you're in a much
better position to have strength and durability for the wind turbine
One site posed an extra challenge, he said. "As we were excavating the
foundation area, we began to hit porous areas in the
bedrock—and then we hit an empty pocket with the excavator
bucket. That required us to refine the engineering process for that one
site; we bored micro-piles deeper than the original foundation would
have gone down, and we poured additional concrete."
Before any of this work was done, however, all of the plans had to be
approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to ensure endangered
species habitat areas were not disturbed.
There were two turbines that were in a habitat area for the Indiana
Bat, an endangered species. "We had to work around that area until
studies were completed to prove that, although these were habitat areas
for the Indiana Bat, the number is not high enough to warrant stopping
the project. That basically then gave us the green light to proceed
with tree clearing and turbine construction."
Constellation Energy has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service for about a year to obtain an Incidental Take Permit with
regard to the Indiana bat. This is a proactive move on the company's
part and is in addition to intensive studies it has done—and
continues to do—to protect bats and other wildlife.
The heavy snowfall of the previous winter was motivation to get the
project done by the fall. "Construction began in April, and the first
foundation was poured in June," explains Shilobod. "So we had a tight
construction schedule of getting 28 wind turbines erected. While we did
not have snow or ice impact us, it did impact the construction schedule
from the point of view that if we did not get the turbines erected by
mid-October, we would have faced a harder challenge of erecting them
the later we got into the year."
It spurred the construction team to hire a second erection crane. "It
turned out to be a good decision because the very last turbine was
erected October 2. We didn't want to be doing that work in harsher
weather. You can't be lifting 300 foot diameter rotors when the winds
are at 20 or 30 mph."
Constellation Energy entered into a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement
with the Old Dominion Electric
Cooperative for energy and renewable energy credits produced by the
Criterion wind project. Old Dominion is a wholsale power provider
serving public electric cooperatives in Maryland, Delaware, and
The power gets to Old Dominion via a 138 kW transmission line owned by
Allegheny Power Systems that passes over the ridge line. "So the
transmission was available, but with the wind project, we needed a new
substation to collect energy from the turbines," explained Shilabod.
"Based on scheduling, we took it upon ourselves to build the utility
side of that substation, which is centrally located between the three
turbine clusters, and we built it to Allegheny Power standards."
Aristeo Construction, of Livonia, Michigan, had the EPC contract for
road construction, foundation placement, turbine erection, collection
systems, and substation work. Another Michigan-based company, M. J.
Electric, LLC, was the electrical sub-contractor on the project.
While the Criterion Wind project is part of Constellation Energy's
commitment to renewable energy, it also goes toward Maryland's own
renewable energy goal, achieving 20 percent renewable energy by 2022.
In addition to being Maryland's first major wind project, this is also
the first wind power project for Constellation Energy, and for
facilities manager Don Shilobod, whose background is in the operations
and maintenance of coal and natural gas-fired power plants.
Shilobod welcomes the challenge of the new technology. "While the
Criterion project still involves generating power, some of the
technology is vastly different. The power output is not constant, and
that is a new learning curve. And learning about the equipment and
technology that captures the wind and transmits that wind speed into
electricity is new as well.
"Wind power is great because it has zero emissions, but there are
impacts that are not seen by the general public," he added. "People
know that the wind does not blow all the time—that's a given.
But there's the learning curve of knowing how snow and ice can impact
your turbines in the winter. It can get to the point where it can
become unsafe to operate the turbine if you have too much snow and ice
on the blades. The added weight load can create problems with rotor
dynamics. You could get a rapid increase in torque by snow and ice
falling off the blade, with potential damage to the gear box assembly
and gear box components. Wind power is not quite as easy as some people
He adds, however, that it's clear renewable energy, such as wind power,
has a place in the energy picture for utilities going forward.