Wind measuring towers are slated to go up late this fall in Plymouth County to gauge the viability of two separate wind farm projects.
Monday the Plymouth County Board of Adjustment approved conditional use permits for Horizon Wind Energy to erect three meteorological (met) towers. Two will be in the northwestern part of the county and one about halfway between Remsen and Kingsley.
If the company does pursue either or both areas for a wind project, the amount of testing and preparation would push construction into 2014-2016, according to Tony Yonnone, project manager for Horizon.
The transmission system for electricity is “entirely too congested at this point,” he explained.
“This is basically our first step,” Yonnone said. “We need to get met towers up first to get a couple years under our belt of wind data, crunch the numbers and we determine whether or not the wind is viable for a larger wind project.”
Two met towers would be in Preston Township, which borders Sioux County toward the west of Plymouth County.
One would be in part of the southeast quarter of section 11 – about 2 miles west of Craig.
The other would be in part of the southwest quarter of section 18 – about 6 miles west and 1 mile south from Craig.
The third tower, in Union Township, would be in the southeast and southwest quarter of section 10 – placing it about 7 miles south of Remsen and 2 miles west.
Both areas have electric transmission lines running through them, Yonnone said.
Horizon doesn’t put up wind farms less than the 100 megawatts size – which means approximately 50-70 wind turbines per wind farm, Yonnone said.
While the met towers will be used to gather wind data, Horizon already has some guesses about Plymouth County’s wind resources.
The area was identified with the help of wind maps.
Yonnone said Horizon’s estimates are that turbines installed in the county will have a 38-39 percent net capacity factor. Basically, that means turbines in the county would produce an average of 38-39 percent of their maximum capacity per year.
North Dakota, which has been cited as the U.S.’s greatest potential wind source, has seen net capacity factor percentages in the 40s.
Yonnone said he started driving the area to get a feel for Plymouth County in March 2009.
The next step for Horizon is to put the project of erecting the three met towers out for bids.
Yonnone said he’d like to see installation by the end of November.
It takes about a day to put up the met towers if weather is nice, he said.
The 198-foot metal towers will each have a set of six guy wires, or cables for stability, in each cardinal direction extending 164 feet out from the tower.
Yonnone said each tower is about 10 inches at its base tapering to about 8 inches toward the top.
Each tower will have six anemometers to measure wind.
“There are two at 60 meters, two at 50 meters and two at 40 meters set at 90-degree angles,” Yonnone said. “We use a 60 meter tower to help us model what the wind will be like at 80 meters.”
Along with anemometers, each tower will be equipped with a sensor that locates bats by sound and counts them.
“We call it a bat hat,” Yonnone said. “We use that to help us understand what sort of wildlife issue we might have.”
If there was a significant population of bats in the area, Horizon would not build there, he said.
Horizon also studies birds and ground wildlife in the areas where it is planning projects, Yonnone said.
“Later on we’ll put people on the ground and they’ll actually watch for birds and do counts,” he added.
Horizon doesn’t have to put up one met tower for each possible wind turbine. Met towers can gather data for a larger area.
Each met tower helps give a sense for about 10,000 acres, Yonnone said.
“The data gets better and better the more met towers are in,” he said.
For the three met tower sites, landowner agreements state Horizon is able to fence or put appropriate markers around an area with a radius of up to 200 feet from the center of the tower, according to Alan Lucken, Plymouth County zoning administrator.
That covers the potential distance the tower would cover if it fell down.
Yonnone said the land license agreements have a three-year initial term with the option to extend another three years.
“It’s unusual we’d keep one of these towers up for six years, but it’s happened in the past,” he said. “We really only need two wind seasons, which is typically two years.”
Once the testing is done, the met towers will be removed and can be used elsewhere.
If Horizon does choose to put in a wind farm, wind turbines may or may not be placed at the site of the testing met towers.
“Our engineers like us to put the met towers where we think would be an ideal place for a turbine, but that doesn’t always work out,” Yonnone explained.
There are several different factors affecting the placement of towers.
One would be the accessibility of transmission lines, another would be the topographical features of the land, and still others would be the proximity of other buildings and roads.
If Horizon chooses to pursue a wind farm or two in Plymouth County, the company would work with the county to pay for road upgrades.
“We’d have to improve the turn radii,” Yonnone explained, speaking of the long trucks that are needed to transport wind turbine equipment. “It becomes a fairly complex undertaking.”
The board of adjustment voted unanimously to approve the three conditional use permits allowing Horizon to install the test towers.
To install a wind farm, Horizon would have to return to the board of adjustment for another conditional use permit, Lucken explained.
“If it happens, it will be good for the county,” he said. “It’s a good tax base, and it’s good for the farmers.”
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