More wind power for wind-rich Colorado
Leeward Renewable Energy is liking the wind resource in northeastern Colorado?"so much so that it recently completed the 171 MW Mountain Breeze Wind Farm, which complements its nearby Cedar Creek Wind project, both in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Color
By Paul MacDonald
The bison in Weld County, in north-eastern Colorado, are carrying on their grazing these days as they did a couple of years’ back, though they now have company—in the form of wind turbines.
Dallas-based Leeward Renewable Energy LLC has completed and is now operating its Mountain Breeze Wind Farm in Weld County, and the turbines have company in bison and cattle in this largely rural area of Colorado, which sits north of Denver and abuts on to Wyoming and Nebraska. The county lies to the east of the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Mountain Breeze is made up of 62 GE Renewable Energy wind turbines with a total project capacity of 171 MW. Leeward designed and constructed the greenfield project from the ground up and will own and operate the wind farm for the long-term. Mountain Breeze is selling its output to Xcel Energy Colorado under a long-term power purchase agreement.
The project created approximately 300 jobs during peak construction and increased its contribution to Weld County in the form of property tax payments. Increase is the operative word, as Leeward Energy already pays taxes to the county, from an existing wind project in Weld County, Cedar Creek Wind, which started operating in 2007.
Leeward also supplies renewable energy to Xcel Energy from the 300 MW Cedar Creek Wind project and the company will be completing yet another wind project in the county in 2022, the 145 MW Panorama Wind project.
When that is complete, Leeward will have a total of some 616 MW of wind power operating in Weld County—supporting the county by making it the largest installed capacity of wind power in all of Colorado.
The Cedar Creek and Mountain Breeze wind projects are all steps in helping Xcel Energy reach the goal of providing its customers with 80 percent carbon free energy by 2030 and its vision of providing 100 percent carbon free energy by 2050.
The Mountain Breeze project received unanimous approval from the Weld County Board of County Commissioners and the county’s planning commission in 2019—support that the company very much appreciated.
“We are also very appreciative of local landowners with whom we have great, long-standing relationships, and other members of the community,” said John Wycherley, Leeward Renewable Energy Vice-President of Development. “The completion of Mountain Breeze Wind would not have been possible without their support and we look forward to maintaining this collaborative relationship for years to come.”
But Wycherley noted that the project had been some time in the works, since 2016, as a matter of fact. The Mountain Breeze project is located immediately adjacent to the company’s Cedar Creek wind project. “So we were already very familiar and active in the area,” he said.
|Carrying out construction on the Mountain Breeze Wind Farm was RES, which has its U.S. headquarters in Broomfield, Colorado, just to the southwest of Weld County. RES was also the civil and electrical contractor on Mountain Breeze.|
Even though they had a good understanding, in general, of the wind resource in the county, Leeward Energy of course did its due diligence.
“It helped to have a strong base of understanding of what is there, and we used all the existing information we had, and the operation information from the Cedar Creek project, to help us de-risk and condense the development time frame.” That said, meteorological evaluation towers (MET) towers were installed on the Mountain Breeze site, to gather further information. “In some ways, it confirmed the data on the wind resource that we fairly well knew already existed on the site,” explained Wycherley.
“If the site had very different topographical characteristics, it would have been even more important to get that data, but this particular site is on top of a flat agricultural plateau. The wind regime is pretty consistent across what are now the sites of Cedar Creek and Mountain Breeze, and soon, the Panorama wind project,” he said.
That kind of wind resource and site is extremely attractive to renewable energy companies, such as Leeward.
“There is a very strong wind resource in Colorado, and these sites offer high elevations with flat plateaus—from a constructability standpoint, you get the positive attributes of it being relatively open, flat farm ground, but at a high elevation.
“These sites have some of the strongest wind resources on what we consider buildable real estate, from a wind perspective,” said Wycherley.
Colorado, which now ranks #7 in wind power capacity in the U.S., with in excess of 4,000 MW, has a number of positives in terms of wind power, including successive wind power supportive state governors. “There is a very positive mandate to put renewables into Colorado,” said Wycherley.
Added to that is that Colorado is a major operating area for Xcel Energy. “Xcel is one of the largest utilities buying, owning and operating renewable power in the U.S.,” added Wycherley.
And there is a well-established process for wind power development, he said.
“Colorado has development requirements, and they are quite stringent, but I characterize it as being very balanced. The rules are set and the procedure is there in terms of how you go about developing a wind project.” There is a good prospect for success for a wind project as long as companies follow the process, and develop their projects in an environmentally conscious manner, he said.
As noted, wind power is well established in Weld County—to use a well-worn term, the Mountain Breeze wind project was not their first rodeo. Local government, and local folks, are familiar and comfortable with wind power, with the Cedar Creek project having operated in the county for 15 years.
In addition to being on some federal and state land, the Mountain Breeze project is also located on private land—the company negotiated leases with about 20 private landowners. While there are both bison and cattle on the site, there is also a large amount of crop land, as well. And, as noted, a lot of these farm folks were already in the loop in terms of what wind farms are all about.
“It’s a closely knit community, and there are quite a few landowners that were involved with the Mountain Breeze project who were also involved with our Cedar Creek wind project,” says Wycherley. There was also a lot of informal information sharing going between local folks and Leeward employees in the community, in addition to community meetings and mailings.
Carrying out the construction was RES, which has its U.S. headquarters in Broomfield, Colorado, just to the southwest of Weld County. RES was also the civil and electrical contractor on Mountain Breeze.
Perhaps more so than usual, it was important for RES and Leeward to work closely together since the project was partly built during COVID-19.
They broke ground on Mountain Breeze in October 2019. “The project was well underway before COVID-19,” said Wycherley.
“We had already started a good working relationship with RES then, and followed on with COVID protocols and parameters as needed so we safely carried out execution of the project.
“We certainly reacted very quickly because Leeward had three wind projects on the go at that time,” says Wycherley. “We put policies in place for local staff on and on-site construction employees, and quickly worked with RES and other contractors to merge our policies together to make sure they worked well together.”
He added they were fortunate on the Mountain Breeze project in that there were no serious impacts on the end timing of the project due to supply chain interruptions.
In general, the project owner/EPC link is very important, Wycherley says. “You’re working together for probably 18 months, both on pre-site construction—the EPC is usually involved with the detailed design work in advance and permitting—and then once you start the project.
“There has to be a strong working relationship because these are major infrastructure projects—like everything, there are always unknowns that come up with construction projects, and you have to be able to work through them. So we definitely value the relationships we have with the EPCs on the wind projects.”
With its large size, 171 MW, Leeward and RES were really able to get some traction, in terms of economies of scale, which makes the project more economic.
“In areas like Colorado and pretty much anywhere in the wind belt in the U.S, we find that probably around 100 MW and above is where you really start getting economies of scale,” said Wycherley, though he added that number of MWs is lower in areas built along the east or west coasts.
“There are standard costs across wind projects, from an interconnection standpoint or even a site set-up perspective. Some of that is the same whether you bring in the blades for 22 turbines or 122 turbines.”
Looking at the project overall, Wycherley said the biggest challenge was the compressed time schedule. They started development work on Mountain Breeze in 2016, and were in construction in late 2019.
“Comparatively, that is a very short period to develop and build such a large project. Some projects can take six, seven, eight years.”
At times, the construction schedule overlapped the development schedule, but strong management kept the project moving ahead, on schedule.
Added to this, 2020 was a busy time for wind project construction, due to the extension of the Production Tax Credit, which brought it with high demand for contractors, and wind turbine components. “Getting Mountain Breeze contracted and completed in time was the biggest challenge on the project.”
With the completion of Mountain Breeze, construction workers have since moved on to the nearby 145 MW Panorama Wind project, made up of Vestas 2 and 2.2 MW turbines, and is scheduled for completion in early-2022.
Both Panorama Wind and Mountain Breeze add to the wind power tally for Leeward Renewable Energy. The company now operates a portfolio of 21 wind farms across nine states totaling approximately 2,000 megawatts of generating capacity, a figure that is bound to grow, as Leeward is actively developing new wind projects in markets across the U.S.