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Bringing new life to an existing wind project

Leeward Renewable Energy has completed work on a re-powering of its GSG Wind project in Illinois, installing 26 new turbines, enhancing turbine capacity, reliability and performance.

By Diane Mettler

The GSG Wind facility in the Illinois counties of Lee and Lasalle just got smaller, but its output did not. Situated on 3,000 acres near West Brooklyn, Illinois, the 80-megawatt wind energy facility, which has been in operation since 2007, is getting a facelift.

GSG Wind has decommissioned 40 wind turbines that had been in commercial operation for approximately 16 years, and then replaced them with 26 new turbines, which will have the same output as the original 40. The repowered facility went operational in December 2023.

“I always say wind turbines are just like cars. They are a mechanical and electrical machine, and if you can maintain them well, you can continue to operate them successfully for many years,” says Willem Van der Ven, Chief Operating Officer at Leeward Renewable Energy (LRE).

“But as we know, cars get older and so do turbines,” he added. “As they age, the cost of operating and performing maintenance on these turbines goes up while the generating capacity slowly goes down.”

Wind energy has evolved over the past two decades and with it there are new technologies that are featured in the newer larger and more efficient and effective wind turbines. To keep a wind farm competitive, LRE will often opt to replace the existing wind turbines and repower its older facilities.

“We replaced all 40 legacy turbines with 26 brand new 3.4-megawatt turbines from GE at GSG Wind. This is a great example of how we are able to shrink our footprint while at the same time increase our energy output of this wind farm to just over 50 percent,” says Van der Ven.

“The old turbines were producing about 5,000-gigawatt hours on an annual basis, and these newer turbines are producing about 12,000-megawatt hours,” he explained. “Again, you have a much smaller footprint for the project, and you are producing more new and clean energy.”

What makes these new turbines so much more productive? Rotor diameter. The rotor diameter at this facility went from 87 meters to 140 meters, which allows the turbines to capture more than twice the amount of wind. In short, these new turbines are creating almost exactly two-and-a-half times the amount of energy as their predecessors.

The newly repowered facility is expected to operate for over 30 years, providing significant economic investment to the local community, and a substantial property tax base for the counties and schools, in addition to generating emission-free renewable energy. The long-term off-taker for all this energy will be Verizon Communications, Inc.


A point of pride for Leeward Renewable Energy on the GSG Wind project was that they were able to recycle 100 percent of the wind turbine blades from the 40 decommissioned turbines. That meant they were able to keep 612 tons of blades out of the landfill.


The repowered farm is spread out, and Van der Ven says that works out well. In addition to making optimum use of the rolling hills to efficiently capture as much wind as possible, it also allows the company to work with multiple landowners. “We like to work together with the local farmers to make sure that they can continue to make optimum use of the land that we are leasing from them, whatever their crop is.”

Van der Ven says every repowering project is a little bit different, and there are various ways to go about it. “Sometimes we leave the foundation and the underground cabling in place and then put a whole new turbine up. Another option is to also leave the existing tower in place and just replace, as we call it, the machine head, and replace the blades. And lastly, is to rebuild everything.”

LRE is getting quite a bit of experience with repowering renewable energy projects. “We started the repowering with our Mendota project in 2019, also in Illinois. And since that project, LRE has been able to repower several other projects in Illinois, New Mexico and Texas,” says Van der Ven. And this project won’t be the last; LRE anticipates repowering opportunities for other assets over the next few years.

This repowering project went smoothly from the start. Van der Ven says that was in big part due to the full support of both the Lee County and LaSalle County communities. “We have been working closely with them for the last 16 or 17 years, so the permitting went very smoothly.” Wisconsin-based Boldt was the contractor on the project.


Wisconsin-based Boldt was the contractor on the GSG Wind project. The new construction required new foundations, cabling, and wind turbines and Leeward Renewable Energy was able to tap local talent and create a significant amount of construction jobs, as the company looked to local suppliers.


The new construction required new foundations, cabling, and wind turbines and that’s where LRE was able to tap local talent and create a significant amount of construction jobs. LRE looked to local suppliers for concrete, electrical equipment for substations and for underground cables as well as companies who are doing the installation of all these cables, substations, and performing installation of the wind turbines.

“In total we created approximately 180 jobs, supporting job creation and also supporting the surrounding economies of both counties,” says Van der Ven.

The decommissioning of the project started in June with the plan that the project would be completed at the end of the year. Once finished, LRE as well as GE would be providing permanent staff at the site.

A point of pride for LRE was that they were able to recycle 100 percent of the wind turbine blades from the 40 decommissioned turbines. “With the recycling of all these wind turbine blades, we’re keeping 612 tons of blades out of the landfill,” says Van der Ven.

An 87-foot-long blade can’t just be dropped off at the local recycling center. So LRE had specialized teams cut the blades into smaller pieces and then send those pieces to a company called Region Fiber in Iowa. There, the pieces of blade are processed and used as reinforcement fibers to increase the strength and the durability of concrete and mortar applications.

“We are also recycling other parts of these wind turbines,” says Van der Ven. “For example, all the steel of the towers is being sent to steel mills and are being used for lots of different applications.”


Lastly, LRE is able to harvest most of the large and small components that aren’t recycled and use them at other wind farms.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to implement sustainable practices in every aspect of a project’s lifecycle,” says Van der Ven.

“I’m really proud of this project and how it came together—our ability to expand our presence and advance renewable energy across those two counties and expand our relationship with local counties,” says Van der Ven. “It has been really great.

“We’ve been able to provide economic benefits to the local counties and we’ve always been able to engage with the community through a variety of events and meetings. We want to be really a good land stewardship partner for the local communities,” adds Van der Ven.

LRE is dedicated to being a good partner in the renewable energy industry. “We want to provide the clean energy that is desperately needed in this country. Currently the total renewable energy generated in the U.S. makes up somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the total energy consumption in the U.S. And we want to be one of the leaders in the renewable energy business, to help us all to increase the clean energy production that people want to use.”

To make that point, two other recent milestones for LRE include: the newly constructed Big Plain Solar facility in Madison County, Ohio that has a generating capacity of 196 megawatts; and the commencement of construction for the White Wing Ranch 160-MW solar facility in Yuma County, Arizona that is expected to be operational in the second half of 2024. To put this in perspective, just these two projects produce enough energy to light up 356,000 homes.

This underlines that LRE isn’t just about wind power. They are building various kinds of renewable energy—solar energy, wind, as well as battery energy storage. In fact, the company is currently operating one battery energy storage facility and building two new battery energy storage facilities in California.

Van der Ven and his team are excited about the battery energy storage projects. “These are really utility scale battery energy storage facilities—the operating facility is able to produce 20 megawatts for two hours while the new facilities are able to produce 88 and 126 megawatts for four hours.”

LRE is definitely a growing company, says Van der Ven. “The company currently has 31 operating assets in about 10 different states, and it is developing 32 gigawatts of wind, solar, and battery storage facilities across over 130 projects.

“And three or four years from now, we expect to double the number of operating assets in well over 20 states and want to continue to invest in our existing portfolio and pursue all new opportunities such as greenfield developments and acquisitions.”

And the future looks bright for LRE. “Expanding our operating renewable assets is a significant goal for our company, but it is also exciting to see how the U.S. is transitioning to the use of more and more renewable and clean energy,” says Van der Ven.

Q1 2024