MACOMB – Renewables are the fastest-growing energy sources, and likely to appear on the local horizon in the next two years.
Matthew Martin, senior manager at Capital Power, gave an update on the Cardinal Point wind project to members of the Macomb Area Economic Development Corporation at its recent annual business meeting.
Capital Power is a Canadian power company headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, which became involved with the Cardinal Point Wind project two years ago after it acquired it from Element Power, the prior developer on the project. “Our goal here is to bring these to fruition,” he said, referencing projects in Kansas and the Cardinal Point project using a map of project locations. “The first project in western Kansas, the Bloom (wind) project is in construction right now, and we’ll be looking to bring forward a project a year in the next three years.”
Capital Power has 18 different facilities across North America, including six different wind farms in North America, with a seventh being built in western Kansas, he said. Many of the company’s projects are wind or solar farms.
They also have a number of coal and natural gas power plants. “One negative of being focused in an oil-based economy is that when oil prices are down, your business suffers,” he said, “so we have been looking to diversify supply south of the border here in the US. One of the big growth markets in the US is the renewables industry.”
The Cardinal Point location borders Warren and McDonough Counties, encompasses 18,000 acres and three townships. The acreage also includes setbacks, which protect nearby residences from sound pollution and shadow impacts. Over 100 landowners are participating in the project through leasing the land for the turbines.
Showing a map of wind speeds across the Midwest, he said that the location had higher wind speeds than the surrounding area. The spot’s high winds had been discovered over a decade ago by a manufacturer which had put up a meteorological tower. “When (the) data (came in) 10 years ago, a company called Eco-Energy saw how windy it was here, which is what brought the Cardinal Point project to the area,” he said.
The industry uses meteorological towers and SODAR machines (Sonic Detection and Ranging) to measure wind speeds. Similar to the well-known SONAR, SODAR gauges wind speed by measuring the scattering of sound waves by atmospheric turbulence or wind.
“It’s able to measure wind speeds much higher than what this tower is,” he said of a meteorological tower displayed on the screen. “We actually have one of these down on the site, north of Sciota.”
He said the site was attractive to Capital Power due to the “strong wind regime” – a long history of consistently high winds, since the spot’s winds have been measured since 2008. The site also has high-voltage transmission lines – 138,000 volts, or 138 kilovolts (kV) – connecting Sciota to Macomb. “South of Sciota, we have proposed to connect to that line and we’ve been analyzing what the impacts will be to connect to that line and the cost of connecting to that line.”
The site is also attractive because the surrounding area is flat, and has highway access, both good for construction crews going to and from the site.
“Most importantly, despite the fact this project hasn’t been built in ten years, it still maintains public support in the area,” he said.
He said the project is essentially back in the beginning stages of the permitting process. “This project was permitted back in 2011. That permit has since lapsed.”
Martin said the project was originally 400 megawatts (MW), and expanded far north in to Warren County and into Henderson County. “The problem is with that 138 kV line, you can only put so much power into it before it overloads,” he said. To accommodate the line, the project was downsized to 150 MW, and will now cost about $250 million, compared to the original $500 million estimated cost.
He said they are re-designing the project with larger machines, renewing leases with landowners, and will be going back before the county later this year with new studies for the zoning process.
Martin said the project will bring local employment and business opportunities. They typically hire locally for functions including surveying, engineering and geotechnical investigation – boring where the turbines are proposed to examine the subsurface and design an appropriate foundation.
“Of course, title work, that will be a big component of what we’re doing, piecing together over 100 parcels of land for a $220 million investment. There’s a lot of title work to be done,” he said.
He said they are seeking local organizations that will work with their general contractor, who will man the cranes and erect the turbines. They will also need to do bridge and culvert work including building new ones to cross streams, and monitoring existing bridges they traverse with heavy delivery trucks.
Concrete is the largest component of their operations. “Each one of our foundations requires 50 concrete trucks,” he said. “That has to be poured on a continuous basis. As you can imagine, we need not just the plant operating at all times, but the fleet of trucks to continuously move.”
The project will also have gravel and tile requirements. They plan to work with local landowners to get tile maps for drainage on their farms, and will also be working with local tile companies to repair tiles that get damaged during construction.
One aspect that often gets overlooked is housing for workers during the project. “When you bring in a lot of construction workers – I know you have a lot of rooms in the local hotel establishments – but a lot of folks like to have a place to go home at night that’s not a hotel. So housing becomes a bit of a boom market for the year of construction,” he said.
The construction process
The project will require turbines in different sizes and capacities, from 2 to 2.5 megawatts. Using a picture of a turbine Capital Power has constructed, he said the hub containing the gearbox and nacelle will rise 300 feet above the ground. To construct the turbines, the company uses cranes that they bring in individual sections and assemble onsite.
“This crane, when it comes to site, comes in 50 different truckloads. So it gives you an idea of what the scale is,” he said.
As the machines become more efficient, the blades become bigger, and can reach up another 200 feet to 500 feet in the air. Depending on the size of turbines being used, they plan to build between 60-75 turbines. Each turbine site takes up about an acre including turning radius. Turbines cost about $1 million per megawatt, he said.
The total process of installing the farm should last about a year, and require 150-180 construction workers. They will be constructing access roads that are slightly wider than normal roads.
One will ultimately become a permanent road, and the others temporary side roads for the cranes. Due to the cranes’ size, 35 feet wide and about a million pounds, they will go to the side of the roads using various crane mats, swamp mats or massive railroad tie-type blocks to distribute the weight.
“By the time it’s said and done, you have a pretty compact footprint that folks are able to farm right back up again.”
The foundations are eight feet deep and 60 feet wide, with a center cage for the turbine tower and a rebar cage molded around it. The rebar cages are essential to prevent the turbine from tipping over during high wind speeds, he said. Once the concrete pour happens, the pedestal can withstand hundreds of thousands of pounds of weight.
Power lines between the turbines will be placed in trenches in the ground for aesthetic reasons and to protect them from adverse weather conditions. Fiber optic cables will also be laid in the trenches so all the towers can be controlled from the operation center onsite or remotely, from as far away as Canada, he said.
Turbines will come in parts and be delivered to the site in ten oversized trucks. The blades are very long, and difficult to transport around sharp corners, he said. To accommodate the trucks, delivery crews will come in advance to remove street signs at the turning points, and replace them once the trucks are through. Turbines can be erected within three days, except in windy weather when work stops for safety reasons.
Capital power sources its turbines from Vestus, a Danish company that manufactures out of Colorado. It also uses machinery from Siemens and General Electric.
“Those are the three we tend to work with…They’re the three biggest in the U.S.,” he said.
Martin said after construction there will be five to six permanent employees on site. Three will be from the turbine manufacturer for the first five years, and then the positions will transfer to Capital Power employees. He said after the meeting that the Cardinal Point plant manager will be local, and they will be accepting resumes locally as well.
Wind turbine service technician is the fastest-growing occupation in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thousands of wind turbines are being installed across the country over the next few years, and renewable energy tax credits will be good through 2020, Martin said.
For more information on Capital Power’s energy projects, go to http://www.capitalpower.com/generationportfolio/Pages/default.aspx.
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