With the arrival of spring, Mortenson Construction Company is gearing up in a very big way to continue construction of the 500 MW MidAmerican Energy Highland Wind Farm in O’Brien County, now the largest Iowa wind farm. Mortenson met almost daily a week ago with their key foremen in the Primghar City Hall Council Chambers. Vehicles with license plates from many different states were seen near City Hall.
Due to a brutally cold November, construction was abruptly suspended over the cold winter with about 30 wind turbine foundations remaining. A drive across the north side of the wind farm shows where excavation activities, foundation form work, rebar setting and other work is going on at multiple sites. With a current workforce of about 40 people, that number will sharply increase.
The approximately 70,000 acre wind farm is divided up into 10 zones with zones 1 & 2 in eastern Dale Township west of Highway 59. O’Brien County Engineer Tom Snyder reported at a recent county supervisor’s meeting that turbine sites 99 and 100 two miles west of Primghar will be the first sites completed. Crews will then erect sites throughout Dale, cross east into Highland Township and then work their way north.
Snyder also reported that he met with representatives from Siemens Energy in the O’Brien County Court House Assembly Room on April 9th. Wind farm project managers with MidAmerican Energy were present as well. Snyder reported that Siemens officials came from as far as Orlando, Fl., where the Siemens wind division is headquartered.
Snyder was informed that turbine components will start flowing into the project area the first week in May. Broadwind Energy, with heavy steel fabrication facilities near Milwaukee, Wis. and another fabrication plant in Texas, was chosen by Siemens to build the tubular support sections that support the nacelle. This means that with three support sections per site, 642 will be trucked into the site on trucks with oversized load permits.
Snyder said that Siemens officials explained how each set of three 176′ long turbine blades is so finely matched according to weight, that if one blade were damaged during assembly of the three-bladed hub for whatever reason, then a different, matching set of three blades would be secured to the hub. With 214 turbines to build, that means 642 blades manufactured at the Siemens Fort Madison, Iowa facility will soon arrive.
Snyder said that 8 oversized truck loads of turbine components are required for each turbine site. Snyder said that when the 214 Siemens nacelles start to arrive from Hutchinson, Ks. the transport requires a super oversized load permit. Even when the truck is empty and going back to Hutchinson for another nacelle, the weight empty is still over 80,000 pounds and requires a regular oversized load permit.
He said with each shipment of turbine components comes a steel Conex box full of hardware for that particular turbine. Siemens, Mortenson and MidAmerican Energy said their plan is to assemble 9 turbine sites each week for 24 weeks and finish the entire wind farm by year end.
Snyder was told that when wind conditions exceed 20 mph, then lifting turbine components becomes unsafe. However, crews are prepared to erect turbine components at night when the winds tend to die down.
Snyder had reported several weeks earlier that Mortenson plans call for up to 8 or 9 cranes to come into the project area for erecting wind turbine components. Mortenson indicated that two of the cranes will be Manitowoc crawler mounted cranes for lifting the heaviest components. Another slightly smaller crawler mounted crane and a half dozen rubber tired cranes will assist the two giant 440 ton Manitowoc’s.
When Mortenson and MidAmerican Energy built the Rolling Hills Wind Farm near Massena several years ago, Dawes Rigging and Crane Rental supplied nine cranes plus the operators and riggers to assemble those 193 turbine sites. Three cranes were the massive 440-ton Manitowoc 16000WA (Wind Attachment) crawler cranes with 292′ long booms. A special 24′ long upper boom point, or wind tip, was attached at the top.
When Snyder was asked at a recent supervisors meeting about the condition of the gravel roads in the wind farm after the winter, Snyder said he thought the gravel roads were in good shape and should hold up under the heavy truck traffic about to test them.
An April 11th drive south through the west side of the wind farm showed where the step-up transformers at each turbine site are coming in. The Siemens 2.3 megawatt (MW) turbine generates a 700 volt AC, three-phase output that goes down to the step-up transformer. The voltage is then stepped up to the 34,500 volt wind farm collection system for underground routing back to the substation.
When questioned recently about wind farm property tax assessment, O’Brien County Assessor Lowell Dykstra talked about the requirements of the Assessment of Wind Energy Conversion Property Tax Ordinance 19 that the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors approved back in 2003.
With the creation of this wind energy conversion taxation ordinance and the presence of a terrain feature called the Buffalo Ridge, wind energy developers like Invenergy from Chicago; Navitas, based in Minneapolis; Airtricity, from Dublin, Ireland; Growind; and even Florida Power and Light were some that came in to O’Brien County to prospect for wind energy development.
Dykstra talked about some of the provisions in the ordinance. The purpose of this ordinance is to provide for the special valuation of wind energy conversion property pursuant to Iowa Code Chapter 427B.26. That Iowa Code chapter gives county supervisors the authority to tax wind energy conversion on or after January 1, 1994, though O’Brien County didn’t pass the ordinance until 2003. Buena Vista County was among the first counties to pass an ordinance like this.
The property tax is based on the net acquisition cost of the entire wind farm meaning the cost of all property including foundations, wind turbines, electrical equipment like pad mounted transformers, underground and overhead power collection systems and the substation for connecting the wind energy onto the high voltage grid.
Dykstra said that all 214 turbines must be finished and the wind farm in operation by the end of this year to satisfy the County’s ordinance property tax assessment requirement. Dykstra explained that if the year-end deadline is not met, then the assessment of the wind farm will be put off until the following year.
Dykstra also said that by February 1, 2016, MidAmerican Energy is required to file annual reports regarding the wind farm with the county. Among the information in these reports includes a copy of the IRS Asset Ledger sheet, an engineering breakdown of component parts, a tower numbering system, and the names, addresses and phones numbers for people connected with the operator and owner of the wind farm.
Dykstra himself has been busy of late, using the most recent map of the wind farm to identify, locate and number each of the 214 sites for assessment purposes.
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