By Jay Haley, PE, Principal in Charge of the Wind Energy
With the latest renewal of the Production Tax Credit, the wind-power industry will likely see an influx of new developers as it has in the past. Many first-time wind developers come from another business or energy development sector, so are already familiar with the project development process from their industry. They may also understand the various phases and nuisances involved with moving a project forward.
However, wind development comes with its own unique and often subtle development challenges that can easily make or break a project. A full understanding of those subtle industry differences can save time, cost, and potential pitfalls when developing a wind farm.
Start off right
The typical phases of wind-farm development are: prospecting, land securing, wind resource assessment, interconnection and transmission studies, wind-farm design, permitting, power purchase agreements, financing, procurement, construction, and operations.
Wind-farm development is a complex process. As a project progresses through the various stages of development, there are many opportunities for mistakes that can seriously affect the final outcome and success of a wind farm.
Some of the biggest mistakes in wind development begin in the early stages and are difficult to overcome as the project progresses. Poor site selection is all too common with new developers. Sites are ill chosen for the wrong reasons, such as location preferences, or without sufficient due diligence.
Typical problems that arise from poor site selection include:
- Landowner issues,
- Less than adequate wind resource,
- Lack of access to transmission (or no capacity on existing lines),
- Lack of an off-taker for the power,
- Constructability issues, and
- Fatal permitting issues.
Collect quality data
Most investors and banks require a minimum of one year of onsite wind data before either will consider financing a project. Most turbine manufacturers have the same requirement. Depending on the size of the project and the complexity of the terrain, a number of measurement sites are necessary to validate wind flow at the site.
A financeable wind measurement campaign includes proper selection of measurement locations and heights, a reliable measurement instrument, and an equipment maintenance plan. Also needed is a high degree of data recovery and thorough documentation.
In simple terrain, where a potential site is mostly agricultural with minimal trees, meteorological (met) masts are typically distributed no more than two kilometers away from the nearest turbine once in place. As terrain becomes more complex with steeper slopes and more surface roughness in the form of structures or trees, the two-kilometer rule of thumb no longer applies and it becomes essential to place met masts in locations that accurately capture the wind flow turbines will ultimately face.
As wind turbines get taller and blades longer, it is critical to measure wind speeds at hub height and within the vertical profile of the swept area of the blade. Failure to obtain accurate wind measurements could jeopardize the chances of getting wind turbines certified for a site.
Selection of the measurement instrument is also extremely important. Using less expensive, lower quality instruments can result in lower quality data and higher uncertainty in the wind regime. This, in turn, can lead to significantly higher financing costs, many times more than the amount saved on cheaper instrumentation.
In cold-weather regions, it is advisable to use some heated instruments on the met tower. This can help avoid data loss from icing conditions. It can also help quantify the amount of icing losses expected in operation by comparing data from an iced anemometer to a heated one.
An independent engineer is often asked to verify the wind regime and energy projections prior to financial closing, so the wind measurement campaign must be thoroughly documented and the met towers precisely installed at a potential development site. Installation details such as tower location, mounting heights, boom directions, instrument models, serial numbers, calibration coefficients, and site photographs are all necessary for the independent engineer to perform his or her task accurately.
Connect with the utility
If you intend to sell power to a local utility once the wind farm is up and running, it is a good idea to open up a dialog early on. It is also important to research the local infrastructure, proposed upgrades to transmission systems and substations, long range plans for large transmission projects, and the overall system operations for that region.
The late stage of project development is a less than ideal time to learn there are no interested buyers for the output from the wind farm — and this does happen from time to time. The reason? There are several including political changes that affect the market, interconnection or transmission issues preventing access to the market, or unrealistic expectations regarding the anticipated power pricing.
It cannot be overstated: proper due diligence in the early stages of a wind project can help avoid costly mistakes and disappointment down the road.
Know the opposition
Establishing strong local connections and community support is often the best way to anticipate and avoid opposition that may threaten land leases, project permits, and wind-farm financing. It is worth engaging local politicians and government agencies, and befriending financial institutions and major landowners that may have influence in the community.
Before doing so, do your research. It first helps to understand local issues and neighborhood concerns. Permitting bodies tend to look more favorably upon projects that have strong local support and participation, so being proactive can successfully impact a new wind project.
Partnering with local landowners and municipalities as opposed to “taking over” will benefit everyone in the long run, including your construction crew if the project is approved. It is also beneficial to employ local people and businesses as much as possible during the design, construction, and O&M phases.
Learn the laws
Permitting is an expensive part of a wind-power project, and requirements vary from state to state and from county to county. One missed step can quickly jeopardize or halt a project from moving forward. For example, regulations are often changing with regards to bats, eagles, migratory flyways, and endangered species or regions, so keep up with the latest rules and bylaws.
Federal Aviation Administration rules and restrictions can also eliminate a substantial amount of property from a developable area. Also look into possible impacts to aviation, defense, or weather-radar stations that may restrict turbine locations.
As a project progresses through the various stages of development there are many opportunities for mistakes or missed information that can affect the final outcome of a project. Some of the biggest mistakes are made in the early stages and are difficult to overcome as the project progresses. If you are planning to enter the wind development business for the first time, it pays to do your homework, seek advice from others with experience, connect with the locals, and develop a solid plan before you get too far into your first wind project.
Filed Under: News, Policy, Projects