PRIMGHAR – Chicago based wind farm developer, Invenergy LLC, hosted an open house for landowners on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at the Primghar Community Center. Invenergy revealed early plans for their 500 megawatt (MW) Highland Wind Energy Project in O’Brien County.
The purpose of this meeting showed landowners where the wind farm will primarily be located, how the project will unfold, what to expect during the two-year construction period, and to sign additional landowner agreements.
Perhaps the largest independent wind energy generation company in North America, Invenergy develops, owns and operates power generation facilities in the United States, North America and Europe. Invenergy has wind energy, solar powered, and natural gas fired electric power generating assets that total more than 7100 MW.
In the past, Invenergy has owned and operated each facility it develops. Invenergy has occasionally entered into agreements with other entities where Invenergy develops and builds a wind farm project. Once completed, the project is then transferred to that other entity for long-term ownership and operation.
*Early Highland Wind Energy Project History
Invenergy wind farm developers initially came into O’Brien County in 2003 seeking to acquire agreements mainly with Highland Township landowners. Invenergy developers explained to landowners that northwest Iowa, particularly O’Brien County, was a suitable area to locate large, commercial-scale wind energy facilities. Many landowners bought into the idea. But, these agreements didn’t necessarily promise that wind turbines would eventually be located on their property.
Meanwhile, several other wind energy developers soon followed Invenergy’s lead and began acquiring landowner agreements in Grant, Center and Lincoln Townships. County economic development and government officials were optimistic that wind energy would soon come to O’Brien County, and in a big way.
It became apparent, however, that inadequate high-voltage transmission systems near the areas where these wind farms were to be located would make it too difficult or impossible to begin building. Due to these electric transmission system constraints and limitations, wind energy projects in O’Brien County were placed in a ten-year holding pattern. Finding utilities to purchase the power was also a problem. One developer simply abandoned its proposed project after several years.
Over the past few months, the rumor mill at the O’Brien County court house began working overtime. Invenergy was now planning to move forward with their project, it seemed. Others claimed that Invenergy even transferred landowner agreements from another wind energy developer looking to build in Center and Lincoln Townships.
Invenergy project developers made frequent trips to the County. After research and paperwork at the court house was finished, Invenergy initiated preliminary discussions with county officials that revealed their immediate intentions.
*At the Open House
Invenergy VP of Development Kevin Parzyck and current project developers Erin Brush and Greg Leuchtmann explained the scope of the long anticipated project to landowners. Some additional landowners within or near the roughly 30,000 acre footprint of the wind farm were also signed up.
Invenergy now says that due to recent upgrades to the Midwest high-voltage electric grid these developments have created an opportunity for the project to begin.
Parzyck said while setting down for an interview, “We’re targeting a 500 MW wind farm. Right now, we have an interconnection agreement with MidAmerican Energy to deliver 500 MW into the electric grid. There is the ability to go beyond that capacity in the future. We will continue to look at that.”
Current plans are to locate the wind farm primarily in Highland Township. But, wind turbine sites may be built in the adjoining townships of Liberty, Dale, Summit and Center.
Parzyck continued, “Within the last couple of months, we did go in and acquire the Airtricity easements further north into Center and Lincoln Townships. We contacted all those landowners to say that we did transfer those assets.” Dublin, Ireland based Airtricity had plans to build a 500 MW wind farm in north central O’Brien County.
One issue yet to be resolved is the size of wind turbines. Parzyck noted, “We’re still determining which turbine size to use. Turbine ratings have been trending up in the last few years. We’re looking at a couple of different manufacturers that build turbines ranging from 1.6 MW to 2.5 MW.”
If Invenergy decides to use 2.5 MW units, then they would have to build 200 sites to get to the 500 MW wind farm capacity. If Invenergy uses smaller turbines like the 1.6 MW unit, then that would require just over 300 sites. Invenergy says that the choice for turbine size and manufacturer will be finalized in early fall. Turbine components would likely start to arrive on-site in mid 2014 Invenergy indicated.
“The desire we have right now is to submit the project to the County for the construction permit. We want to submit for permit approval in early July so we can start construction in early fall,” Parzyck explained.
Invenergy is currently surveying individual properties to determine turbine sites in the months of June and July. The schedule calls for acquiring the necessary construction permits in July and August as well as starting the real estate documentation process like tenant subordinations with landowners who host turbine sites.
Invenergy says they plan to begin working on turbine foundations and other civil work from October through December. Additional construction activities this fall will include steps like clearing land, building access roads and entryways into the sites.
“I think wind farm construction will extend well beyond December of 2014. It’s going to be a 12 to 24 month project just to build this wind farm,” said Parzyck.
*Work Force Requirements
“Usually, for a 200 MW project, it takes a crew of 150 to 175 construction workers. Obviously, this is a much larger project, but you don’t necessarily double the size of the crew,” Parzyck explained. “You may have the same size crew working over a longer period of time.”
The number of permanent employees the project is expected to generate is significant. “With a 500 MW project like this, maybe 20 – 25 permanent full-time maintenance positions will result,” Parzyck noted.
Invenergy’s investment in Iowa wind energy is substantial. To illustrate the wind farms potential cost, Parzyck said, “A ballpark-figure used in the industry to estimate costs of building wind energy is $2 million per megawatt. It’s certainly well beyond $500 million for the cost of this wind farm. It’s hard to say an exact figure right now.”
O’Brien County Economic Development Executive Director Kiana Johnson said of these developments, “OCEDC has been very supportive of the Highland Wind Project. We have been working with Invenergy for many years and are excited to finally see everything move forward. A project like this brings many benefits to the county and landowners such as easements, and increase in tax revenues; construction, plant maintenance and management jobs. It spurs economic development opening doors to manufacturing opportunities and moves us forward to a clean energy future.”
However, this wind energy project is so large that the economic benefits during the two-year construction period should spill over into adjoining counties too.
*Iowa Wind Energy Activity Picking Up
MidAmerican Energy announced on May 8th their intent to add up to 656 new wind turbines to their existing fleet of 1,267 wind turbines by 2016. MidAmerican’s expansion will bring their total number of wind turbines to 1,923. MidAmerican expects to generate 1050 MW of electricity from their $1.9 billion investment in Iowa. Locations for new wind farms have yet to be revealed.
With the 200+ wind turbines that Invenergy plans to build, this brings the number of new wind turbine sites to almost 950 over the next few years. The combined amount of new electricity generation added to Iowa’s high voltage grid could total 1,550 MW.
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