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Farming the wind

ENID – Construction has begun on the Chisholm View Wind Project, a 235-megawatt wind farm being built between Hunter and Pond Creek.

The 140-turbine wind farm is being built under a power purchase agreement slated to provide electricity to Alabama Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based southeastern utilities provider Southern Company.

A spokesperson for project manager Enel Green Power North America said the first turbine base was erected east of Hunter last Friday, and the first turbine should be fully assembled in August.

Construction is being completed by Renewable Energy Groups of Mortenson Construction, a nationwide contractor that has built wind farms in the United States and Canada.

Enel Green Power data shows more than 150 workers are employed on a daily basis erecting the wind turbines.

Construction will continue from the Hunter area in a line to the northwest toward Pond Creek, with the last of the 140 turbines expected to be operational by the end of the year.

All site roads have been completed along the wind farm’s development area, and 125 of the 140 turbine locations have been excavated, according to Enel Green Power North America information.

Each of the turbines is rated to produce 1.68 megawatts, for the total wind farm production capacity of 235 megawatts.

When the wind farm is complete, it will send power through an existing OG&E transmission line to power distribution centers in Dallas and Wichita, Kan., then on to utility customers in Alabama Power’s service area.

According to TradeWind Energy of Lenexa, Kan., the project’s original designer and developer, the wind farm is expected to generate enough power to avoid more than 565,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to taking approximately 110,000 cars off the road.

While the energy generated will be heading out of the region, the project is expected to have significant financial benefits in north-central Oklahoma – about $5 million a year into the local economy, according to TradeWind Energy estimates.

Enid Regional Development Alliance Executive Director Brent Kisling said the project will have both short- and long-term benefits for the area.

“Currently, in the short term, it’s going to have a significant impact because there’s about 200 people working in that area between Kremlin and Lamont,” Kisling said.

Those workers are staying in hotels and motels throughout the Enid trade area, and contributing sales tax revenue at local stores and restaurants.

The permanent work force associated with the wind farm will be much smaller – about 15 permanent jobs for turbine maintenance.

But, Kisling said the positive impacts will continue to be felt long after the construction crews move on.

“The reason this is significant in the long-term is two-fold,” Kisling said. “First, it’s about a $400 million investment in our area, and once that wind farm is complete, they will be the largest ad valorem taxpayer in the county. The second reason is each of those turbines pays a royalty to the landowner, similar to oil and natural gas royalties, and that’s a 20-year contract.

“This is going to generate millions of dollars into our economy in the form of royalty payments, and that’s all money that’s going to go to local retailers and the paychecks of people locally. It’s a significant long-term investment in our communities and our region.”

Ownership of the $375 million wind farm project has changed several times since TradeWind Energy began site preparation last winter.

The project later was sold to Enel Green Power North America, subsidiary of Enel Green Power, a European company that pursues wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass energy projects throughout Europe, North America and South America.

In April, majority ownership of the project again changed. EFS Chisholm, a subsidiary of GE Financial Services, bought a 51 percent stake in the company at a price tag of $191 million. Enel Green Power North America retained the other 49 percent for an investment of $184 million.

Enel Green Power North America retains the option to increase its ownership by an additional 26 percent, up to 75 percent ownership, by buying back EFS Chisholm stake in the project through 2013.

Capital for the project was secured on June 6, when Enel Green Power and GE Financial Services brokered a capital contribution agreement with a syndicate led by J.P. Morgan.

That syndicate, which also includes Wells Fargo Wind Holdings LLC and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (MetLife), will provide $220 million in funding during the fourth quarter of 2012.

In exchange, according to an Enel Green Power press release on the deal, the syndicate will receive project voting rights and an equity stake in the renewable energy tax benefits associated with the wind farm.

According to Enel Green Power North America, the Chisholm View wind farm will be “one of Oklahoma’s largest” wind farms, and the first wind farm in the state to export power to the southeastern United States.