Traveling down Highway 70 east of Broken Bow, you might miss the small orange sign marking the turnoff for construction vehicles. The sign seems insignificant; you might not even notice it most days, the gravel and dirt road seems like any other country road. What lies down the road is far from insignificant. The construction project along this road is, in fact, one of the largest civil engineering projects Custer County has ever seen. This is the location of the new $145 million Broken Bow Wind Farm.
In the past couple of weeks, construction has finally begun on the mammoth wind turbine project, officially known as the Broken Bow Wind Farm. Developed by Midwest Wind Energy of Chicago, the project will involve the construction of 50 300-foot wind turbines on 14,000 acres of land, creating 80 megawatts of power. The project is 100% owned by Edison Mission Group (a subsidiary of Edison International, headquartered in Irvine, California). This will be the third wind energy project in Nebraska for EMG, the seventh largest developer of wind energy projects in the U.S. Their other wind farms include the Laredo Ridge project near Petersburg and the Elkhorn Ridge project near Bloomfield.
After years of planning, public meetings, legal agreements with landowners and lots of regulatory red tape, construction crews finally moved their heavy equipment into the area in October.
Dozens of workers equipped with heavy cranes, road graters, bulldozers and dozens and dozens of trucks carrying gravel and cement flooded the designated region three miles northeast of Broken Bow. The terrain dictates that the wind towers will be placed unevenly, scattered throughout the development, not the nice neat rows of turbines seen elsewhere.
The immediate goal of the crews from Wanzek (heavy industrial contractor out of Fargo, North Dakota) and Orion (construction services out of Oklahoma) is to complete the building of the maintenance roads for the wind farm and all of the turbine foundations before winter sets in. Dozens of trucks carrying gravel and cement run constantly to the site.
A water truck runs the route, spraying down the road to reduce the dust created by so many vehicles. The roads will be 16-foot wide while the wind tower foundation bases will have a diameter of 18-feet with an ideal exclusive use area of 100-feet for each one. Development of the Broken Bow Wind Farm has been different in some aspects for EMG from its previous Nebraska developments.
This project is primarily on pasture land and the company is working with landowners on how to build roads usable to both parties and how to fence off wind turbines without limiting access to water.
Originally, most of the sand, gravel, and cement needed came from Broken Bow companies but the immense quantities needed for the project has made it necessary to source supplies from Kearney. Once everything has been set in place and secured, most of the work at the Broken Bow Wind farm will cease until spring.
Wanzek company spokes-man, Evan Bisbee stated that they were shooting for all of the foundations to be complete by Dec. 15. A local company will be hired to maintain the area until construction crews return. In early 2012, construction will begin again in earnest, assembling the wind turbines themselves and connecting the wind farm to the power grid.
Project set to begin again in spring
Depending on the weather, construction of the wind farm will begin again sometime in the spring of 2012. The wind turbines, built by General Electric, will send parts from all over the world to be assembled here by Wanzek.
Giant 500-ton cranes will be brought in to assemble the colossal 80-meter wind turbines, each capable of producing 1.6 megawatts of power. The blades of the turbines measure over 100-feet in length.
Bisbee estimates there will be approximately 140 employees working on the project. The construction should only last a few months but the absolute hard deadline is Dec. 31, 2012 for completion. That’s the deadline for developers to qualify for production tax credits.
Wind Farm will supply energy for 25,000 homes
Upon completion of the Broken Bow Wind Farm, the wind turbines will produce 80 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 25,000 homes. All of the power produced by the wind farm will be sold to Nebraska Public Power District under a 20-year power purchase agreement.
“The addition of Broken Bow Wind, LLC, moves NPPD closer to our board of directors goal of having 10 percent of our energy come from renewable energy,” said NPPD President and CEO Pat Pope. “The energy produced will be shared with other Nebraska utilities as we have done at other EMG wind farms.”
NPPD is working with Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), Lincoln Electric System, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska and the City of Grand Island as partners in the project. Approximately five percent of NPPD’s total power portfolio will come from wind energy generated by EMG wind projects, along with the NPPD’s Ainsworth Wind Energy Facility.
Additional benefits to county
During the peak of the construction phase, the project will employ between 100 and 140 individuals. The wind farm will provide approximately 10 permanent jobs in the Broken Bow area. The project will also contribute roughly $5.6 million to the state in sales tax revenues during construction.
Once completed, the wind farm will contribute an additional $900,000 annually on average over its 25-year life in property taxes and state income taxes. Additionally, Broken Bow Wind Farm will produce an average of $540,000 per year in lease royalties to local landowners.
Although construction of the Broken Bow Wind Farm appears to be going as planned and seems to be in the best interest of area communities, the state of Nebraska and EMG, Custer County is in the process of reaching an agreement with Broken Bow Wind, LLC for contingency plans to be in place if the company pulls out of the project.
The goal of the “decommissioning agreement” would be that in the case of abandonment of the wind farm, that the land be returned to its original state with the surrounding soil and vegetation restored to a usable and nonhazardous condition.
Specifically, it would require Broken Bow Wind to remove all equipment, concrete foundations and transformer pads, removal of all metal and cables, backfilling and regrading foundation areas, restoring Broken Bow Wind created roads to previous conditions, and otherwise returning the land to its preexisting state. The agreement would provide financial assurances related to the decommissioning activities to Custer County. Zoning Administrator Darci Tibbs believes an agreement between Custer County and Broken Bow Wind, LLC should be reached by Nov. 15.
Future of wind energy in Custer County
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Nebraska ranks 6th in the nation for potential wind power output with 868 billions of kilowatt hours/year. Only a small percentage of that potential energy is currently be harvested (less than 200 million kilowatts) ranking Nebraska 24th in existing wind power output.
“Nebraska is on the move in wind energy development,” said Governor Dave Heineman speaking at the Laredo Ridge Wind Facility last summer. “I fully expect Nebraska to be a Top 10 wind energy producing state within the next 10 years.” A phase two of the Broken Bow Wind Farm is being planned by Midwest Wind Energy. Expected to begin construction in 2012, the project would provide an additional 75 megawatts of power.