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More wind power in America's heartland

EDP Renewables North America recently completed the fifth phase of its large Meadow Lake Wind Farm in Indiana, bringing the project's total installed capacity to 600 MW-and a 200-MW sixth phase is under consideration in this wind-rich region.

By Vicky Boyd

At the turn of the century, America's heartland was typically overlooked as a region in which to build wind farms because the projects didn't pencil out. But new technology, more efficient wind turbines, and lower-cost components have sparked interest in the Midwest among wind energy developers.

One such supporter is EDP Renewables North America (EDPR), which completed the fifth phase of its Meadow Lake Wind Farm near Chalmers, Indiana, in late 2017, bringing total project installed capacity to 600 megawatts. A sixth phase of up to 200-MW is under consideration, with the size dependent on eventual off-takers' requirements.

"With this project, the state of Indiana surpass-ed 2,000 MW of installed capacity," says Ryan Brown, EDP Renewables North America Executive Vice President - Eastern Region and Canada.

"All of that happened in the last 10 years. I think that speaks to the evolution of the technology and the industry.

"The turbines are better, more efficient, and can produce more with less wind at a lower cost," Brown added. "Fifteen years ago, places like Indiana wouldn't have even been on the radar of wind developers."

Not only have companies like EDPR embraced the wide expanses offered by the mostly rural Midwest, but local landowners and governments-often struggling because of a depressed agricultural economy-have also benefited from the spending influx.

The Meadow Lake Wind Farm project, for example, contributes more than $7 million annually to the economy of White County-home to the wind farm-in the form of lease payments to landowners, economic development payments, and taxes, he says. The number of Indiana homes powered by the five phases of the Meadow Lake Wind Farm totals 159,250. The capital cost of the five phases of the project is $1.272 billion. For the first four phases of the project, money spent within 50 miles of the project totaled more than $83 million.


Seventeen years after introducing its 2-megawatt (MW) platform, Danish company Vestas installed turbine number 20,000, underlining its position as the most widely installed platform in the history of wind energy, says the company.
More than 38 gigawatts of the 2-MW Vestas platform turbines have been installed in 45 countries on six continents. Vestas has five variants of its best-selling turbine.
The historic landmark occurred with the installation of a V110-2.0 MW turbine at the 2-GW Wind XI project in Iowa. Developed by MidAmerican Energy Co., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the Iowa project will be one of the largest wind developments in the U.S. when fully operational.
Wind XI also underlines the platform’s strong fit for U.S. markets, where the Vestas 2-MW platform alone makes up 12 percent of the total installed wind capacity compared to eight percent globally. The U.S., the world’s second largest wind energy market, is home to 10 GW of the Vestas 2-MW platform installed. That’s one-fourth of the platform’s global installed capacity.Introduced in 2000 with the V80-2.0 MW turbine, the platform was upgraded with the new V116-2.0 MW and V120-2.0 MW turbines in 2017. Vestas supplied turbines for Phase V of the Meadow Lake

In the case of Meadow Lake V, Hoosier Energy Rural Electric Co-operative and Wabash Valley Power Association signed 20-year contracts to purchase the 100-MW output. Together, the two local wholesale electricity providers serve 41 distribution cooperatives in Indiana and eastern Illinois.

"Some of the participating landowners in the project who had turbines on their land were also rural electric cooperative members. So it was kind of a nice closed circle," Brown says.

EDPR began looking at potential greenfield sites in Indiana in 2006 and 2007. Among them was Meadow Lake, located in White County about midway between Indianapolis and Chicago. Part of the initial work involved collecting wind data from various potential sites.


Meadow Lake became a top prospect for a number of reasons, including wind resources, Brown says. With mostly flat terrain, White County is raked by strong winds moving south from the Great Lakes. Very few trees, which could create surface roughness and slow the wind, dot the landscape.

"The wind resources, and particularly the wind speed, are among the best in the state, so that's a heavy plus," Brown says.

At the same time, the region is home to
mostly corn and soybean production, which
is compatible with wind farms. The turbines and platforms occupy only about one percent of the overall wind farm, allowing landowners to continue farming the remainder.

"Meadow Lake also was close to existing transmission infrastructure with connection capacity. So we could connect to the existing grid, which is really important because that would drive additional costs if we couldn't," Brown says.

Kansas City, Missouri-based Burns & McDonnell engineered and installed the interconnection switch-ing station to connect Phase I to American Electric Power's existing 345-kilovolt transmission line. The station was designed to accommodate future capacity expansion of up to 800 MW at the Meadow Lake Wind Farm, allowing the subsequent phases to take advantage of the existing gen-tie system.

In addition, the wind farm is near Indianapolis and Chicago, hubs for industrial manufacturing that create strong regional demand for power.

EDPR began moving forward with Meadow Lake in earnest in 2008 with environmental studies that examined the project's impacts on natural resources as well as resident birds, bats, and other animals.

The company also began holding town hall meetings to reach out to local landowners to educate them about the project's benefits and hear their concerns. At the time, there was only one other wind farm in the state.

"I think the folks in White County are used to using the land to make a living, so I think it made sense to have wind provide this additional stable income to supplement the income that agriculture provides," Brown says. "So then, how is it going to interact with our farming operation?

"With a multi-phase project, if you don't do a good job on the first project, there's not going to be a chance of having a Phase II, Phase III, Phase IV, or Phase V," he said.

Meadow Lake covers 92,000 acres, meaning several hundred individual landowners had to sign long-term leases for the wind farm to be viable.

Many of the landowners had installed tile drains underground in their fields to remove excess water from below the soil surface. One of their biggest concerns was how the wind farm construction would affect the drains and how they would be repaired afterward.

There was no avoiding having to cut some of the drains during trenching and other construction. But Brown says the goal was to restore the drains to their original status once the project was completed.

"We worked with a lot of the landowners and our contractor to keep the fields functioning from a drainage standpoint," Brown says. "The tile drains are what make that land productive agriculturally. That was a very important item to address with the landowners and to ensure they would be returned to normal after we were done."

Indiana is a home-rule state, meaning most of the permitting is done through the local county government. A couple of wind farms had already been built in nearby Benton County, so White County leaders were somewhat knowledgeable about the greenfield projects, Brown says.

Meadow Lake became a top prospect for a wind farm for a number of reasons, including wind resources. Meadow Lake is also close to existing transmission infrastructure with connection capacity. Additionally, the wind farm is near Indianapolis and Chicago, hubs for industrial manufacturing that create strong regional demand for power. 

Nevertheless, he says EDPR worked with White County to develop a wind ordinance that satisfied both groups' goals about how to site, plan, and proceed on construction.

"It was very positive from that perspective," Brown says. "White County was very interested in seeing investments and attracting companies like ourselves to build in their county. They could protect their interests and still attract wind development."

The project was planned to be built in phases, with each moving forward once a power purchaser signed a long-term contract for the pending electricity.

The 200-MW Phase I was built and completed in 2009. It involved 121 Vestas V82 1.65-MW turbines. Phases II, III, and IV, each approximately 100 MW, were built and completed in 2010. They involved 66 Acciona AW-82 1.5-MW turbines, 69 GE sle 1.5-MW turbines, and 47 Suzlon S88 2.1-MW turbines, respectively. Phase V used 50 Vestas V110 2.0-MW turbines.

The turbine selection was based on the "best fit and best price available at the time," Brown says.

Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Mortenson Construction, which had built eight other wind farms for EDPR, served as the engineering, procurement, and construction contractor for Phase V. Regardless of the wind farm's size, Brown says communication among all parties is critical to its success.

"There are always problems that come up, and you have to work through them together," he says. "And we had a great experience with Mortenson on the site."

One of the construction approaches Mortenson recommended that proved successful was starting initial site preparation during the fall of 2016 to meet the May 2017 turbine delivery schedule. The work involved improving public roads and building private access roads.

Spring 2017 turned out to be extremely wet, with day upon day of heavy rains.

"Had we not done some of that pre-construction, it would have been very difficult to get started in the spring because of all of the wet weather," Brown says. "It was good planning by our team and good execution by our contractor to get out ahead of that."

The turbine components were transported by a combination of rail and semi-truck. Because many of the rural roads weren't wide enough to accommodate the oversized truck loads, they had to be improved.

"We had a road use agreement with White County," he says. "Frankly, that's a very positive benefit. The work that was done improved the public roads in that area, and it was done without county resources."

Construction of the project followed a sequential approach. Once a turbine foundation was excavated, concrete was poured and allowed to cure before the site was backfilled. The construction equipment then moved onto the next turbine site and performed the same functions. Meanwhile, trenches were dug for underground collection lines to connect the turbine to a substation.

The construction equipment then moved to the next turbine site and performed the same functions.

As the first site cured, a crane platform was built nearby before bringing in the big rig. In what amounted to a carefully choreographed dance, the crane would lift each of the tower's four sections into place as workers bolted them together. The crane then lifted the nacelle atop the 95-meter-tall tower.

At the same time, workers on the ground assembled the rotor by attaching the three 55-meter-long blades to the hub. The crane then lifted the assembly, and workers attached it to the nacelle. Once completed, each turbine (from the base to the tip of the tallest blade) stood 492 feet tall.

"Then the crane ideally walks from site to site," Brown says. "In some cases, you have to break it down to move it to a different area of the project."

At the peak of the project, more than 400 workers-many of whom were local-were employed.

Phase V was dedicated in October 2017, and a crew of more than three dozen workers will continue to be based at the operations and maintenance facility in Chalmers.