Saline County is the focus of two wind farm projects by Aksamit Resource Management, which are expected to be complete within the next two years.
Jason Edwards, vice president of development at ARM, said his company is working on two wind farm projects in western Saline County: Milligan 1 and Milligan 3.
Edwards said ARM first took interest in Saline County in 2012 and has spent the five years since then gathering information and preparing for the project.
“There are four main things that go into determining if you can even build a wind farm in any particular location,” he said.
The four factors are the land resources, the wind resources, the environmental impact and the ability to connect to transmission lines.
“Those are the things that have to line up,” he said. “Some of those take quite a bit of time in order for the [government] agencies to approve things.”
Determining the environmental effect of the wind farm took quite some time, he said.
“It takes a bit of time to capture the required amount of data that you need in order to prove to them that you don’t pose a threat or that there aren’t any species that we might possibly endanger,” Edwards said. “You have to do a number of seasons of onsite monitoring.”
Edwards said the company hired a Nebraska environmental firm to study the project sites, checking for wetlands that might be endangered by the project and doing studies on the flora, fauna, birds and bats. They also researched the history of the land to ensure excavation wouldn’t stir up contaminants.
“There’s much coordination between both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska Game and Parks,” Edwards said. “We do the studies and then we submit all our studies and all our information.”
Both agencies sent agents to do site visits for the projects.
“We drove almost all of Saline County for them to review the sites, to understand what we were doing,” Edwards said.
In addition to this, ARM has also set up two temporary meteorological towers in the county to study the wind conditions. Each tower has booms coming off the side with measurement instruments to study wind speeds, atmosphereic pressure, temperature and humidity.
“It’s so we can understand what the wind resource availability is and if there’s a good resource for us to get energy out of so we can build a viable project,” he said.
Both projects, Edwards said, will require a great deal of planning even after the environmental studies are done. The company will bring in each piece of each wind turbine as they are being built, meaning the routes for the trucks need to be determined ahead of time.
The other problem is infrastructure. As it stands, Saline County’s rural roads will not be able to handle the heavy equipment that would be brought in for construction. To this end, Edwards said, the company will have to improve the roads so they can handle the company’s needs.
Phil Young, ARM’s community relationship consultant, said the company would have to make those improvements themselves.
“There is a whole lot of preplanning and engineering work that goes into this whole process to even get it ready,” he said. “All the local roads need to be checked and we have to make sure the equipment can get around corners. There’s going to be road improvements we’ll end up doing for the county and those improvements will stay there after the project’s done.”
Edwards said the actual construction of the projects, from the moment they start to the moment the turbines produce power, will likely take six months for Milligan 3 and six to eight months for Milligan 1.
“The longest time for that is getting the concrete for the foundations in the ground,” he said. “Once you get the concrete in there, it takes about a month for that to cure and be ready to put a turbine on the foundation.”
The construction of the actual turbine goes fairly fast. The construction company ARM will be contracting for the project can do eight to 10 a week, Edwards said.
Milligan 3, the smaller of the two projects, will have 37 turbines producing a total of 73.4 MW. It will cover 10,000 acres, each tower standing roughly 260 feet tall to the hub with blades 180 feet long. According to ARM’s website, the project is expected to be done near the end of this year.
The larger project, Milligan 1, is expected to be completed by the end of 2018. The 300 megawatt facility will have 87 turbines spread out over 30,000 acres. Each tower will be 384 feet tall with 207 foot blades.
Edwards said each turbine will spin at a speed of roughly 15-18 rpm. Edwards said that number seems slow, but the sheer size of the blades makes each rotation more massive.
Each turbine will have sensors on the tower that measure the speed and direction of the wind, allowing the turbine to turn in the desired location.
In extreme weather, this will also allow the turbine to turn the blade out of the wind. The blade itself can shift like a plane’s wing to prevent the wind from forcing it to turn.
Edwards added that, in case of a fire, the company has already contacted local fire departments about how to climb the turbines.
“There is very rigorous certification in order to be able to climb these towers,” he said. “We have agreed in meeting [with the fire departments] is that we will take some of their people and get them trained so they are prepared to climb these towers.”
Edwards said the turbines will have fire suppression systems installed and pointed out that some of the danger is alleviated by the fact that the turbines are so high.
“It’s not like a house catching on fire, where everything else around it can be a problem,” Edwards said. “It’s 300 feet up in the air. It’s not typical that other things catch on fire because of it.”
Edwards said ARM would pay for the taxes on the turbines. According to county assessor Brandi Kelly, the turbines will not affect property values.
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