Big Smile project honors wind power pioneer
ACCIONA's Big Smile wind project in
western Oklahoma is all about supplying clean energy—but it also
honors one of the company's employees, Jennifer Koop-Krass, who helped
make the project happen.
The alternative energy business is certainly about energy, whether it
is wind, solar, biomass, or geothermal.
But the business is also about people, the people who make things
happen in alternative energy.
Jennifer (Jen) Koop-Krass was one of those people who made things
happen—big time. The former director of energy marketing at
ACCIONA Energy North America, Koop-Krass was responsible for working
with utilities, lining up their purchases of power from ACCIONA's wind
farms in the U.S.
Colleagues describe her as hard working, thoughtful, strong, confident,
and kind—and possessing an ever-present very big smile.
Sadly, Koop-Krass passed away after a courageous battle with ovarian
cancer in 2011. Only 35 years old, she had just recently married.
Though she will undoubtedly live on in the memories of her family and
colleagues, Koop-Krass also lives on through one of ACCIONA's wind
farms. In her honor, the company named a project in western Oklahoma,
"Jen was a remarkable person, colleague, and friend, and her bravery
had a profound effect on our company and its employees," said Dan
Foley, CEO of ACCIONA Energy North America.
"During her life, Jen accomplished so much personally and
professionally—Big Smile Wind Farm at Dempsey Ridge in Oklahoma
will serve as one example of her great contribution."
Koop-Krass contributed greatly to the company's success in the U.S. and
Canada as she was one of the company's earliest employees upon its
entry into the North American market.
"Jen was an all around great person," added Lisa Leipzig, project
manager on the Big Smile wind project. "She was very thoughtful and
kind—and she had this big smile that would just light up a room.
"Jen was also a pioneer," she added. "She was a leader in having one of
our projects, the Red Hills wind farm (also in Oklahoma) be the first
in the U.S. to be validated and registered under the Voluntary Carbon
Standard (VCS) and listed on APX's VCS Carbon Registry."
The VCS Program provides a global standard for approval of credible
ACCIONA's Red Hills Wind Farm was the first U.S. renewable energy
project to be validated and registered according to the same stringent
methodology that governs renewable energy projects registered under the
Kyoto Protocol. Validating the Red Hills Wind Farm was a lengthy
process with third party confirmation ensuring that the project met all
the requirements of VCS. It was viewed as a groundbreaking
accomplishment—and was led by Koop-Krass.
The 132 MW Big Smile project is essentially Red Hills' sister wind farm
and is located across 10,888 acres of Roger Mills and Beckham Counties
in Oklahoma. The project is just 15 miles west of Red Hills, which was
put into service in June 2009.
Working with Mortenson Construction, ACCIONA completed the installation
of Big Smile's 66 Gamesa wind turbines at the end of last year. They
have been powered up and gradually connected to the grid, reaching full
commercial operation in May.
The Big Smile wind farm at Dempsey Ridge will create enough clean
energy to power 46,000 homes in Oklahoma and surrounding states and
will avoid the emission of approximately 339,000 metric tons of CO2 per
year from conventional power plants.
The project will generate more than $20 million in tax revenue for
Roger Mills County and provide supplemental income to participating
agricultural landowners through its 99 lease agreements.
As with virtually all wind power projects, Leipzig noted, "it took a
few years to get a shovel in the ground, but we're all very proud of
Oklahoma is, of course, known for being a big traditional energy
provider, with large oil and gas reserves. But the state is also well
recognized, and well measured, for its wind resource potential,
currently ranking in the top 10 U.S. states for wind energy potential.
Having developed and built the Red Hills project, ACCIONA was well
aware of the wind resource in the area. Rolf Miller, ACCIONA's director
of wind resources, explained that the quality of the wind resource on
the site is due to a number of factors.
"For starters, the topography is a gentle east-west oriented hillside
with no flow obstacles, such as buildings or trees, to speak of," he
"The wind is strong, and even better, it blows relatively constantly
from the south. This interplay between topography and wind in a
perpendicular configuration is nearly ideal."
Power from the Big Smile
project goes through a 230kV line to the Sweetwater Switching Station
of the Public Service Company of Oklahoma. ACCIONA has an
interconnection agreement for the entire 132 MW of the wind farm.
ACCIONA also already knew the local area and the local people.
"This is our second wind farm in Roger Mills Country, so we were aware
of the great community base there," explained Lisa Leipzig. "The
community was very supportive of wind development and welcomed ACCIONA
into their local community." Wind farms are not new to this part of the
state; there are a number of other wind farms in the region.
The local government and the State of Oklahoma are both in the know
when it comes to energy in general, due to extensive oil and gas
developments and most recently, renewable energy projects.
"It's always refreshing to be able to work with a county government
that is educated in wind development and operating wind farms," says
In addition to the local government, ACCIONA worked with more than 100
local landowners, signing 44 wind easement agreements and 29
transmission easements. Generally, wind developers in Oklahoma have
found landowners to be knowledgeable when it comes to lease
arrangements as many have already negotiated oil and gas leases on
their properties. In fact, the Big Smile site has a number of active
"It was a large group of people to work with, but the landowner base
was very supportive of the project," says Leipzig.
"It was helpful, too, to be working with local regulators who are
educated in terms of the permits and the timelines and the equipment
for having a wind project in their community."
The State of Oklahoma itself is supportive of alternative energy. In
2010, it established a renewable energy goal for electric utilities
operating in the state. The goal calls for 15 percent of the total
installed generation capacity in Oklahoma to be derived from renewable
sources by 2015.
The state's two largest utilities, Oklahoma Gas and Electric and Public
Service Company of Oklahoma, have been adding wind power to their
energy portfolios for several years.
The State of Oklahoma provides a state income tax credit to
producers of electric power using renewable energy resources from a
zero-emission facility located in-state. The zero-emission facility
must have a rated production capacity of 1 MW or greater. The credit is
$0.0050/kWh for the first ten years of operation.
There are also property tax exemptions for five years, with counties
reimbursed by the State.
During the project development phase, Leipzig explained, ACCIONA
participated in an extensive county permitting and review process. The
company also conducted biological assessments, bird and bat impact
studies, and wetland delineation to address wildlife concerns.
Public meetings allowed local communities the opportunity to review the
wind farm maps and pose questions regarding the results of
environmental impact studies. Following these meetings, ACCIONA secured
the permits required to begin construction.
"We really embrace sustainable development and social responsibility as
a company," says Leipzig. "Sustainability is not a buzzword at our
company—that's the way we do business. We're always careful to do
environmental studies pre-construction, before we get too far into the
development of a project, to make sure we don't encounter issues. With
the Big Smile project, we didn't have any endangered species or
During the construction phase, they sent out regular newsletters to
landowners, updating them about the project's progress. The company
also had several information meetings, to notify local people about the
specific construction that would be happening on the site.
"During the early months of construction, we had a coffee get-together
at one of the local diners, and we were there with our construction
folks, just in case landowners had any specific questions." Some people
came to ask questions, and reflecting that this is small town Oklahoma,
some folks just dropped by to say "hi".
When it came to one-on-one communication, Leipzig called individual
landowners to update them on construction activities. "I suppose I'm
kind of old school that way—I think they appreciated the personal
The roughly 11,000 acres the Big Smile project occupies is mostly
agricultural land used for grazing. It is fairly flat, though there are
some rolling hills.
In terms of construction, Leipzig says the company benefited from the
fact there are already wind farms in the area, including their own Red
The 2 MW Gamesa G90 turbines
selected for the project were a good fit, says ACCIONA. "The turbines
for our projects are selected based on the wind profile and our
proprietary wind resource intelligence," said project manager Lisa
Being in a county that is host to
other wind farms, it was a bit more straightforward than being the
first wind farm in, she says. "It also helps that ACCIONA has an
experienced team that, for example, knows how large the turns need to
be on a road to handle the trucks, and the best routes. We had to
increase the turning radii at some intersections, but by and large, the
routes are well planned, and we have experts that know the best routes
to minimize any upgrades or modifications of existing roads.
"On site, we strived wherever possible to use the existing road systems
that the farmers use for their activities, to minimize site
Local concrete batch plants were used to provide construction materials.
Power from the Big Smile project goes through a 230kV line to the
Sweetwater Switching Station of the Public
Service Company of Oklahoma. "We have an interconnection agreement for
the entire 132 MW of the wind farm. That is crucial to deciding whether
a project is viable," says Leipzig.
The size of the project gave ACCIONA and Mortenson some economies of
scale in terms of construction. "In this case, the 132 MW size fit with
the wind resources and made sense from a grid perspective."
The 2 MW Gamesa G90 turbines selected for the project were also a good
fit, says Leipzig. "The turbines for our projects are selected based on
the wind profile and our proprietary wind resource intelligence."
Mortenson Construction also built the Red Hills wind project for
ACCIONA back in 2008. In addition to erecting 66 wind turbines,
Mortenson installed underground collection, transmission line, a
project substation, and an operations and maintenance facility.
Now that the project is complete, ACCIONA has moved into the operations
phase with Big Smile. Leipzig noted that the company takes a long-term
perspective with its projects. "We're not only a developer of wind
projects and a turbine manufacturer. We're also a long-time owner and
operator of the wind projects we build. And we strive to be good
corporate citizens and good neighbors in the communities where we
operate." As an example, ACCIONA will be providing scholarships to
students in three local school districts.
From development to operations, it all falls under the umbrella of one
company, she added.
"We're fortunate in that ACCIONA has experienced staff at all levels,
from our wind resource expertise to our transmission engineers and our
construction and operations folks." This gives the company more control
and allows them to keep in-house a lot of work that some development
firms have to outsource.
With three wind projects operating in Oklahoma right now, and an
abundant wind resource, it's very possible that ACCIONA might look at
additional projects in the state.
At the dedication ceremonies for Big Smile in May, Oklahoma Secretary
of Energy Michael Ming noted that the state will have about 3,000 MW of
wind power by the end of this year, and renewable energy is a big part
of the Oklahoma First Energy plan. He said there is good potential for
partnership in using wind and the state's abundant natural gas reserves
for power generation.
Also at the ceremonies, Bob Koop, the father of Jennifer Koop-Krass,
made note of the strong winds that started just as the ceremonies were
getting underway, and he wondered, in what looked to be a wistful way,
if his daughter might, in some way, be responsible. He felt that she
was looking down on the dedication ceremony—with the beautiful
weather and the plentiful wind turning the turbines—and smiling.