Huge wind win for Oklahoma
Invenergy has taken scale to a whole new level, with its mega wind project, the 998 MW Traverse Wind Energy Center, which features 356 wind turbines and spans two counties in Oklahoma.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Renewable energy developer Invenergy has put a giant exclamation point at the conclusion of its most recent wind power development program in Oklahoma, completing the largest wind farm constructed in a single phase in North America.
The massive 998 megawatt (MW) Traverse Wind Energy Center, jointly owned by AEP’s Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), towers in size over its two, nearby sister projects: the Sundance Wind Energy Center at 199 MW and the Maverick Wind Energy Center at 287 MW.
Invenergy developed and operates all three projects, which compose the North Central Energy Facilities (NCEF).
Together, they produce 1.484 gigawatts (GW) of renewable wind energy, which is enough power to supply 440,000 homes.
All three were constructed during some of the most trying times in industrial development in North America due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sundance project began commercial operations in April 2021, while the Maverick project began operations in September 2021. Traverse began generating power in March 2022.
PSO and SWEPCO took ownership of the NCEF facilities as they began commercial operation. The generated power is being marketed to customers in Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
The NCEF wind projects were attractive to AEP to help achieve its goal of bringing 16,000 MW of wind and solar power on line by 2030.
The company’s goal is to achieve net zero carbon by 2050 with an interim target to cut emissions 80 percent from 2000 levels by 2030, says Wayne Greene, spokesman for PSO.
“It’s a huge investment of $8.2 billion in regulated renewables plus a huge investment in transmission and distribution to support that,” he says.
In 2019, AEP also announced plans to invest about $25 billion in its transmission and grid system to modernize the grid to support efficiency and resiliency of the energy delivery system.
In addition to renewable power, the NCEF installation will also provide a measure of stability and safety to area power customers.
“This investment in Oklahoma will save our customers approximately $1 billion during the time the facilities are in service and will help mitigate the impact of spikes in market prices,” says Greene.
He adds that if the fuel-free NCEF project had been fully online during the winter storm of February 2021, over $200 million in savings could have been realized by their customers.
Given the cold weather that can occur in Oklahoma in winter, the GE turbines on the Traverse project have been equipped with a cold weather extreme package as well as a winter ice operations mode which allows them to withstand extreme cold weather comparable to the weather that occurred in 2021. This package allows the turbines to operate in temperatures down to -30º Celsius and will allow equipment components to survive temperatures down to -40º Celsius. Without that package, the turbines would only be able to operate down to -15º Celsius.
Suffice to say that this overall $2 billion investment into the NCEF grouping has provided a major economic boost to western Oklahoma, where up until the arrival of the renewable power industry, the local economy depended largely on agriculture.
It also underlines Oklahoma’s notable shift over the past decade as not only a major producer of oil and gas, but also a major producer of renewable wind energy.
The Oklahoma wind resource has provided thousands of new jobs in both construction and maintenance. In addition to jobs, the NCEF is providing millions in extra tax revenue locally and to the state—as well as lease payments to landowners—and that support is continuous over the lifetime of the project. While there were no state incentives employed to construct these projects, as they had expired, they were eligible for the federal production tax credit.
The Traverse installation is located in Blaine and Custer counties, north of the city of Weatherford.
Construction began in November 2020 and was completed in March 2022. Delivery was only slightly delayed despite construction occurring through the COVID pandemic, which presented significant challenges to Invenergy to safely navigate workers around the worksite, as well as interacting with landowners and suppliers on a project of this scale.
“No one had a roadmap for how to do that, so we had to create one for ourselves in real time,” says Bristi Cure, Senior Vice-President of Renewable Development for Invenergy.
They also had to contend with unpredictable delivery of components to the site, especially with long lead items. Because of supply chain challenges, those lead times simply became longer for such critical items as transmission structures.
“Our construction schedule shifted around quite a bit based on what components were available versus those that we were still waiting on,” Cure says.
|The 998 megawatt (MW) Traverse Wind Energy Center is located near two sister projects: the Sundance Wind Energy Center at 199 MW and the Maverick Wind Energy Center at 287 MW. Invenergy developed and operates all three projects, which comprise the North Central Energy Facilities (NCEF).|
This area of western Oklahoma offered Invenergy a high quality wind resource and the ability to tie into the local power grid, but the substation was over 60 miles away.
“We built in an area where we knew that we’d have to build a pretty long transmission line to get to a good injection point on the grid,” says Cure. “But we thought because of the scale that we could achieve in that area with the wind resource we had, it was a good play—and it did work out exactly as planned.”
She describes Traverse as a greenfield project that Invenergy began developing in 2019. They worked with several equipment and services suppliers to construct it. In addition to GE supplying their 2 MW turbines, which Cure describes as a workhorse for the company, Blattner provided the civil and mechanical work, EPC Services Company performed the substation electrical work, RES conducted the collection system installation work, and local company, Miller Tippens Construction, performed the operations and maintenance construction.
Cure adds that Invenergy opted to install GE turbines exclusively because of their past performance experience, reliability and availability.
“We have a longstanding relationship with GE,” says Cure. “They make good products, and also with Traverse being as large as it was, trying to find a turbine source that could supply that many turbines on the schedule that we needed also had something to do with it, in addition to cost. I think because the project was so large, they (GE) were pulling from a number of sources.”
It helped that GE is a global conglomerate and as Invenergy also develops wind farms internationally, it is important to deal with a supplier that can deliver products to satisfy a construction schedule wherever a project is being built.
AEP entered the picture when Invenergy responded to a Request for Proposals (RFP) from the utility aimed at expanding their renewables portfolio. The Traverse project was among those selected. Up till that point, Invenergy was marketing the project to multiple potential off-take parties.
With Traverse being a later project, Invenergy had the benefit of familiarity with local residents of what is involved in constructing a wind farm, albeit in this case on a massive scale. So Cure says that they were generally supportive of it.
Local folks were really excited for someone to be interested in utilizing their land, says Cure. “I think in most cases, places in rural America that don’t have a lot of new businesses or jobs coming in are pretty welcoming of wind farms, particularly when we are talking about billions of dollars of capital investment coming in.”
One advantage of a wind installation is that while the foundations to support the towers take up a portion of the land base, most of the land itself can remain in productive use. That was the case with all three NCEF projects and landowners, who for example graze cattle, appreciated that.
While Oklahoma has an abundant wind resource, it also experiences some of the worst storms in the U.S. and tornadoes are common. This is on top of the occasional blizzard and cold snap the state can experience in winter. Cure emphasizes that the GE turbines they have installed lock in place when there are severe weather warnings.
“Typically, those turbines can withstand winds of up to 120 miles per hour, and while the wind farm being hit directly by a tornado is low risk, there have been a few accounts where that has in fact happened and there has been a little bit of damage,” she says. “But we don’t see them suffering any visible damage. The turbines are able to lock in place and withstand some pretty severe weather.”
Invenergy will continue to conduct business with AEP in Oklahoma, as its subsidiary, Invenergy Services, has secured a 10-year operation and maintenance contract with AEP for the Traverse installation.Q2 2023