After more than two years of wrangling, a wind farm fully capable of powering the Pantex Plant is slated for public bids early this year.
About three years ago, Pantex officials agreed with Texas Tech University to research the feasibility of building a wind farm at the plant, which uses seven megawatts of power every day purchased from Xcel Energy. That racks up an annual electric bill of more than $4 million for the Carson County nuclear weapons facility.
Xcel Energy spokesman Wes Reeves said the energy company does not have any agreement currently about a new wind farm at Pantex.
Workers at the Pantex Plant, located 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, assemble, dissemble and modify nuclear weapons and manufacture high explosive components.
Pantex and Texas Tech have eyed the 1,500-acre government-owned property east of the plant for the wind farm, where officials hope to construct up to seven turbines when the project is complete.
The most recent government estimate puts the energy cost savings at about $2.5 million annually for the Pantex Plant.
The arrangement will include a 15-year contract between the National Nuclear Security Administration and the private energy company that wins the bid. The deal, called an Energy Savings Performance Contract, allows federal agencies to initiate energy saving projects without up-front capital costs from the federal government.
Instead, the Pantex wind farm contract likely will call for a $25-million investment by the company that wins the bid, said Johhnie Guelker, Pantex’s assistant manager for environmental and site engineering programs. But the rate of return for the developer’s project investment will be more than what the business could earn back doing a similar, private project in the current economy, Guelker said.
In 2009, President Barack Obama’s 2010 federal budget included about $28 million for the wind farm, but Congress killed the funding.
The next step is the release of a U.S. Department of Energy request for proposals that interested energy companies will use to fashion their bids. Federal officials likely will release the proposal in early spring, Guelker said.
The wind farm program stalled last year pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency must give the nod to build tall structures close to the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport, about 20 miles southwest of the proposed wind farm location.
“It appears (the FAA) are going to look back at some stuff that would allow us to go ahead and place at least the turbines to run the Pantex Plant,” Guelker said.
He said Pantex officials are now in the final stages of the FAA approval process, which includes a review of the turbines’ height and their positions on the property.
“They’re looking at the proper configuration relative to the airport so we don’t impact any approaches that are currently in the area,” he said.
Guelker said the desired 2- to 3-megawatt turbines will be slightly taller than the 1.5-megawatt ones used, for example, at the Majestic Wind Farm, a private, unrelated endeavor north of the plant.
He said from the ground to the blade’s tip, one turbine at the proposed Pantex wind farm will measure 426 feet.
If the seven turbines, each rated at 3 megawatts, operated at full capacity constantly, the production would power more than 7,000 average homes. But due to variable wind conditions, the turbines’ actual production will be less.
Since planning began for the wind farm, researchers at Texas Tech have supported the project as a way to bolster wind research.
In the deal, the university stands to gain unprecedented access to a major wind farm in the Texas Panhandle that will add more research options to an already popular field, said Andy Swift, director of the Wind Energy Workforce and Education program at Texas Tech.
Swift said Pantex and Texas Tech will benefit from a long-term partnership that will feed renewable, less expensive energy to the plant and provide educational value to students and professors who study wind energy.
“We’re very interested in access for research and development and education,” he said.
While the Texas Panhandle is a prime spot for wind energy and wind farms, existing wind farms are privately owned and do not release their data. A public wind farm will let Texas Tech researchers pursue a slew of wind energy projects.
“This deal gives us an opportunity as a state university to provide data that could be of value at the national level for moving wind power forward, to improve reliability and reduce costs,” he said.
Swift said researchers and students could immediately begin to study how a collection of turbines in relative proximity to each other can affect the energy collected.
“Their performance is very different” when turbines are grouped, he said. “That whole area is very poorly understood, so having access to turbines in an array and being able to carefully measure that is very valuable.”
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