Basin Electric Power Cooperative plans to tap wind source with more turbines
There’s a wind ridge south of Minot that’s rich in recoverable energy.
Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Bismarck, plans to tap that resource in coming years with 77 turbines spread over 8,000 to 12,000 acres.
The cooperative held a meeting in Minot Thursday to further unveil its plans and take public comment for an ongoing environmental study.
Ron Rebenitsch, manager of member marketing for Basin Electric, said the cooperative studied national wind maps for some time to find the best location for a wind farm.
“We targeted a number of areas and submitted transmission requests for several areas, then gradually zeroed this down,” he said.
With the help of Bruce Carlson, Verendrye Electric general manager in Velva, Basin Electric focused in on an area south of Minot, where a wind ridge presents a potential for profitable recovery.
The area being considered runs from near the old radar base, located about 14 miles south of Minot, for about nine miles along U.S. Highway 83. The area extends from about three miles west of the highway to five miles east.
Rebenitsch said the electricity generated by the turbines will feed into the local grid using a transmission line that runs parallel to Highway 83. All connecting cables to the turbines will be underground.
PrairieWinds ND1 Inc., a newly formed subsidiary of Basin Electric, is developing the 115.5-megawatt project. A project of that size would serve the equivalent of about 32,000 homes as an annual average.
Thursday’s public scoping meeting was part of the process of developing an Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act. An assessment is required because Basin Electric plans to finance construction with a loan from the federal Rural Utility Service. Basin Electric and the USDA are taking public comments on the environmental study until May 3.
The results of the assessment and of a wind study will determine exactly where the turbines will be located, said Amanda Wangler, project engineer. The project has three wind measurement stations that have been in operation about nine months and two others that have been in operation for six months. The cooperative looks to obtain a year’s worth of wind data, she said.
The siting of the turbines will consider terrain and the need to stay out of each other’s wind wake. Turbines will need to be 1,000 to 2,500 feet apart for best efficiency, Wangler said. They also must avoid wetlands and be at least 1,000 feet from a residence and 400 feet from a road.
The environmental study should wrap up by fall. The $240 million construction project is expected to start in the spring of 2009. The new turbines could be delivered by late 2009, and operation could begin in 2010.
In addition to the environmental study, the project will need zoning permits and approval from the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
Basin Electric representatives met with landowners in the weeks before the scoping meeting, but the meeting offered people a chance to view maps of the proposed area and get more information about the project.
Landowners whose families have lived in the area, sometimes for generations, say it comes as no surprise that the area is rich in wind. There’s support for harnessing the wind, even though as Daryl Nicolaisen of Max said, it will change the look of the countryside.
“It’s probably what we are looking at for our future,” Nicolaisen said, citing the need to develop alternative forms of energy.
Ken Honcharoff of Max also said alternative energy sources are needed. Additional income from land leases also will benefit the rural area, he said.
Wind mills on the prairie are nothing unusual, either.
“We used a windmill for water up until the early 1970s,” Honcharoff said.
The difference in today’s windmills is that the turbines proposed for the project south of Minot will be large. They will be somewhat larger than the two existing turbines that Basin Electric erected in 2002 along U.S. Highway 83, near the old radar base.
Each of the proposed 1.5-megawatt turbines will be 262 feet tall with a tower foot print of 14 feet in diameter. The existing 1.3-megawatt turbines are around 200 feet tall.
Wangler said the best wind often is at higher elevations so wind farms are seeking taller wind towers. Europe has even taller turbines than in the United States, where size is limited by what will fit under the bridges along the interstate highways, she said.
Compared to the existing towers south of Minot, Basin Electric’s proposed new turbines from General Electric will have more sophisticated electronics and larger rotor blades with a newer design to better adjust to the wind.
As a separate project, Basin Electric plans to erect three more of the new turbines in the area of the existing two. That would bring the total number of new turbines in the area to 80.
The existing turbines, known as Willy and Wally, and two turbines near Chamberlain, S.D., were Basin Electric’s first ventures into wind energy. With the construction of the latest Minot project, Basin Electric will have been responsible for the addition of almost 140 wind turbines to North Dakota’s landscape.
The cooperative buys the power from FPL Energy’s 27 turbines at Edgeley/Kulm and Highmore, S.D., and its 33 turbines at Wilton. Overall, Basic Electric currently has nearly 95 megawatts of generating capacity in North Dakota and 40 megawatts in South Dakota that are powered by wind.
The new Minot wind farm will be located in the service territory of Verendrye Electric and Central Power Electric Cooperative of Minot. Both are Basin Electric member systems.
Basin Electric also plans another, similar wind project in South Dakota.
Rebenitsch said Basin Electric is counting on Congress to renew a production tax credit for wind energy that is set to expire at the end of the year. The tax credit has been in place for several years through extensions granted by Congress.
“There’s enough cost impact that if the tax credit expires, you are going to see the wind industry shrink dramatically,” Rebenitsch said. “The tax credit really is the driving force that enables wind to be competitive.”
Another factor driving wind energy is the national concern about carbon emissions from power plants that generate electricity. Wind energy won’t replace traditional power plants but it can cover some of the growing energy demand to ease the reliance on carbon fuels, Rebenitsch said.
“Wind energy is one tool in our tool box,” he said.
In addition to using wind generation, Basin Electric operates two coal-fired power plants in North Dakota – Antelope Valley Station in Beulah and the Leland Olds Station at Stanton. It operates a coal-fired power plant in Wyoming, two peaking stations in South Dakota and one in Iowa and nine natural-gas stations in Wyoming.
The cooperative provides electricity to 126 member rural electric systems and their 2.5 million customers in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
By Jill Schramm
6 April 2008