NextEra Energy filed its long-anticipated application with Reno County on Feb. 15 seeking necessary permits to construct its proposed 220-megawatt Pretty Prairie Wind Energy Center in the southeast quadrant of the county.
The application itself is just 21 pages long, though, with maps, notification lists and legal documents, the full application runs about 70 pages.
NextEra paid a $300 application fee for the project, which will likely cost around $300 million to build, based on recent public wind turbine construction estimates.
A couple of things stand out when studying the project.
First is its sheer size.
Second is the fact the Florida-based company developing the project has chosen to use GE wind turbines – rather than Siemens Gamesa nacelles that would be built in Hutchinson, less than 20 miles away.
Towers and turbines
The plan calls for 81 wind turbines, the majority of them GE 2.5/2.8 megawatt (MW) turbines with 127-meter or nearly 417-foot diameter rotors.
According to GE their 2 MW-127 has a rotor sweep area equivalent to more two football fields.
The nacelles will be attached to 292-foot tall tubular steel poles, meaning the blades, at the top of their arc, would reach about 500 feet into the air, or the height of a 50-story building.
The tallest building in Kansas is the Epic Center in Wichita, at 382 feet.
The project map also shows seven 2.3 MW GE turbines with 116-meter (380.5-foot) rotors, most clustered in two-mile sections between Irish Creek and Castleton roads, and Obee and Kent roads. They’ll be on poles that are about 30 feet shorter than the majority of turbines.
Both turbines employ active yaw control to steer the machine to the wind and have active blade pitching to maximize power output, the application states.
The News reached out GE for more information. It provided a flyer about its 2MW turbine line but declined to provide information on where the turbines and towers for the Reno County project will be constructed or any additional details about the project. It has manufacturing plants in California, Florida and South Carolina, while its renewable energy headquarters is in France.
The towers and turbines will be painted with a non-reflective off-white color designed to minimize visual impacts. No graphics will be on any part of the tower or blades, except turbine numbers above the entrance doors for emergency response.
The towers will not be illuminated except as required by the FAA, the application states, though it does not detail those requirements.
Power generated by the turbines will be sent below ground on private participating landowner property, or approved crossings, to a collection substation, then sent through overhead transmission lines to Westar’s power center in Wichita.
The project also includes a large “laydown area” for parking and storing materials, as well as an operation and maintenance facility.
Asked why the company selected GE turbines over locally produced ones, Bryan Garner, NextEra director of communications, stated in an email: “Our company has used both Siemens Gamesa and GE turbines on a variety of projects. In fact, our most recent Kansas wind project – Pratt Wind – features Siemens Gamesa turbines.”
“We select the equipment for each project based on a number of factors, including cost, suitability to the local land and topography, power generation capabilities, customer needs and the availability of the turbines for our development and construction timeline,” Garner stated. “We continue to work closely with Siemens Gamesa and fully expect to consider its technology for future projects.”
Siemens Gamesa officials in Hutchinson declined to comment.
While the application states there will be 81 turbines, the map provided in the application shows specific sites for 88 turbines, as well as three alternate turbine sites and two smaller meteorological or met towers. The company did not immediately respond to a question about the additional locations.
The plans also call for about 20 miles of new access roads to be constructed by the company.
Of the turbine sites, 53 are within the zoned portion of the county, with another 28 in unzoned areas. The company previously committed to follow any restrictions set by the county within the zoned areas for the unzoned areas as well.
The wind farm will be developed in a northwest to southeast diagonal direction, starting near Yoder and following the diagonal of K-96. From north to south, it goes from about a mile south of the highway to 2 1/2 miles north of Cheney Reservoir.
Most mile sections in the 61-acre corridor will house two, three or even four turbines. The densest cluster includes 34 of the 81 turbines – or almost 42 percent – on either side of Parallel Road.
The map also shows significant acreage in the unzoned area west of the designated turbine sites as under contract and for which setback buffers are detailed on the map.
According to the NextEra application, 170 participating landowners have agreed to lease land for turbines, roads or other elements of the project.
The four-page list of names provided with the application, however, shows just 53 different individuals, couples or trusts, with only 43 different family names.
Much of that land is farmland held in trusts.
The company also provided a list of non-participating landowners who have land within 1,000 feet of land NextEra has contracts with, who must be notified of the public hearing on the company’s Conditional Use Permit application, anticipated for April 4.
That 18-page list including 262 properties, held by 156 individuals, families or trusts.
The map provided by NextEra uses blue circles to show 1,400-foot setbacks around homes of participating members, and red circles to indicate a 2,000-foot setback the company agreed to follow for homes of non-participating households.
Counting the homes indicated by +-signs on the map, there are 20-some homes within the wind farm construction zone owned by participating members.
In contrast, symbols for homes of non-participating members show about 160 residences within the wind farm acreage.
That means only about 13 percent of homes in the zone are owned by participating members and 86-plus percent by non-participants.
A rough count shows some 62 percent of the occupied properties are within a mile of a turbine and many will have multiple turbines surrounding them. At least one home has 10 turbines within a mile, on three of its sides.
Nearly 63 percent of the 45,684 acres of land in the wind farm area is cropland, with just under 30 percent listed as grassland and smaller acreages of trees and wetlands.
NextEra was required by law to assess whether the project would impact any threatened or endangered species of plants or animals.
The assessment determined there are no protected plants, but there are five of the 15 federally-protected wildlife that could be in the area – with four having a high to moderate likelihood of presence – and nine state-listed species they list as “known or expected to occur within Reno County.”
The likelihood was high for the presence of whooping cranes and Arkansas River darters, since the wind farm is within the rare crane’s migratory path, and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has designated critical habitat for the shiner in streams within the project area.
Birds listed as low risk included the least tern, piping plover and snowy plover. All three may be present at Cheney Reservoir, about 2.5 miles west of the wind farm.
“To address potential risks to the whooping crane, appropriate sections of the project transmission line will be marked with bird flight diverters,” the application states.
Flying into power lines is a leading cause of death for migrating whooping cranes. Flight diverters, which are wrapped around or hung from the overhead wires, make them easier for flying birds to see.
Some birds, however, are also killed in collisions with turbine blades themselves and the application doesn’t indicate measures to prevent that.
To avoid impacts to the Arkansas darter and Arkansas River shiner – the latter is listed as a moderate risk due to designated habitat in the far northeast corner of the project area – developers “plan to avoid impacting potential habitat (i.e., rivers and streams) of these species.”
Another species listed at moderate risk is the eastern spotted skunk, which lives in grasslands where rock outcrops and shrub clumps are present. There is one known occurrence of the skunk in Reno County and the animal has designated critical habitat in Sedgwick County, adjacent to the project. The application notes a similar “plan to avoid impacting potential habitat.”
“Should avoidance not be feasible, then appropriate permits will be obtained from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism,” the application states.
Protected fish species with low occurrence risk included the peppered chub, silver chub and plains minnow, while the mammal with low risk was the northern long-eared bat.
Eagles, hawks and bats
The company also had biologists conduct periodic scans for eagles, other raptors and songbirds. The survey found there are potential impacts on some birds, but the “impacts are not anticipated to have population-level impacts.”
The surveyors did bi-weekly bird counts for 20 minutes each at 22 locations, and 60-minute surveys for bald eagles, for a cumulative 342 hours of bald eagle observation. A winter survey is still going on.
Last spring, aerial surveys were also conducted to inventory raptor nests within the project plus a 2-mile buffer, and all eagle nests within a 10-mile buffer around the project.
A total of 42 raptor nests were found, including seven bald eagle nests of which four were in use, eight red-tailed hawk nests, two great horned owl nests and one Swainson’s hawk nest. All the bald eagle nests were two miles or more from the current project boundary, with five of the seven near Cheney Reservoir.
Using bat sonar detectors, the surveyors also recorded an average 26 bat passes per night, with eight bat species identified, though no endangered northern long-eared bats.
Safety and complaints
The company states it will implement a preventative maintenance program for the wind farm that includes regularly scheduled inspections and routine maintenance of turbines, transformers, and equipment, “ensuring potential fire hazards are addressed before they occur.”
NextEra stated it also plans to implement continuous monitoring of its operations through both an on-site operation and maintenance building in the unzoned area of Reno County, and its Performance Diagnostic Center in Juno Beach, Florida.
The company pledged to draft a “communication action plan” it will share with the fire department, township, and site personnel. The plan will include a contact list, site schedules, and outline potential risks. A wind energy center map indicating specific turbine locations will be provided to the local fire department.
It also promises to post information “in coordination with the county, to inform residents and businesses of an e-mail address, street address, and a telephone number where they can contact Pretty Prairie Wind with questions, concerns, or complaints related to the Project.”
The application documents include a one-page “complaint resolution form” for public use, which offers enough space for maybe one or two sentences.
The company states the plant manager or a project representative will try to respond within 48 hours during regular business hours and “any confirmed problems will be corrected as soon as practical.”
“In cases where a resolution cannot be delivered within 30 days, a timeline and measures to be taken will be provided to the complainant.”
The complaint resolution process will begin with the start of construction and continue as long as it is operating. The company says it will maintain copies of all complaints received and their resolution and submit a report to the county annually.
NextEra states in its application that it is North America’s largest producer of wind energy with 120 facilities in 21 states and Canada producing 14,000 MW of wind. The company added 1,800 new megawatts of wind last year, including a project in Pratt.
The company expects to employ 250 people during construction and create about 10 permanent jobs.
The construction schedule indicates a spring groundbreaking, with the delivery of turbines in the summer and the wind farm going into operation before the end of the year.