The global market for wind energy installations is projected to reach an annual total of $70 billion in the near future. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. wind industry added 7,588 megawatts (MW) of new wind capacity last year, with an additional 841 MW added in the first quarter of 2019. Across the United States, Puerto Rico, and Guam, more than 56,000 wind turbines produce a combined capacity of nearly 100,000 MW. Wind power in the U.S. has more than tripled in the past 10 years, and is now the largest source of renewable generating capacity in the country.
A recently announced project, the Reading Wind Facility (located in Osage and Lyon Counties, Kansas) provides an opportunity to review some of the innovations in wind project development and construction. Reading Wind will generate roughly 760,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of clean energy per year once operational, in the second quarter of 2020.
The facility will consist of 62 wind turbines and just under 5 miles of transmission lines. Each turbine is mounted to the top of an 80-meter-tall tower and has a 116-meter, three-blade rotor connected to a generator. The project will generate significant benefits to the local community, including creating approximately 125 full-time jobs during peak construction, and up to eight permanent jobs once operational. During construction and operation, both Osage and Lyons counties will benefit from increased local spending on goods and services.
Key Insights from On the Ground
The development and construction of Reading Wind provides a number of best practices around sourcing, recruitment of trained personnel, and quality control.
When constructing wind projects, a best practice for sourcing is to maximize the purchase of local goods and services to the greatest extent possible. This brings added economic benefits to the local community, and can also contribute to building goodwill. In instances where local sourcing is not feasible, using vendors that have proven to be predictable and reliable partners on past projects is the next best choice.
A second-best practice incorporated into Reading Wind is leveraging the expertise of local individuals as much as possible. Recruiting local workers can sometimes be challenging because of the advanced skill sets required for wind energy construction. To overcome these concerns, Reading Wind personnel organized local job fairs focused on attracting local applicants that align with the labor and operator positions for on-site equipment positions.
Other best practices include micrositing, considering underground cable installation methods, routing access roads and crane movements, and creating a comprehensive development process to improve the impact of wind project complexities.
Connecting with the Local Community
An ideal wind project is one that is sited properly, and effectively engages the local community. Support and buy-in from local communities are absolutely critical. At Reading Wind, a series of job fairs, information sessions, joint route-mapping sessions and more, provided greater transparency and accountability with the local community.
Additionally, local agencies were involved in the establishment of haul routes as well as the permitting and construction execution. And because wind projects can generally take between four and six years before construction ever begins, the project followed best practice by designating senior personnel to serve as focal points to engage with neighbors, local authorities, governments, different counties, and land owners. Developers also hosted dinners with land owners to involve them in the development process, and even engaged local hospitals and EMS agencies in several mock emergency drills to get an idea of what it would take to conduct a rescue from the project site.
In the end, the ultimate goal of a wind energy project is to produce a lower cost of leveled energy to the grid, and, whenever possible, significant benefits to the local community. Deploying the innovations and best practices described above can help companies and customers alike realize these benefits with greater efficiency and affordability.
Rick Ortiz is Senior Vice President of Wind with RES. He has been in the construction industry for over 30 years and moved to the renewables sector in 2005. Rick currently oversees all wind construction projects for RES in North America. The Reading Wind Facility is owned by Southern Power and is being jointly developed by Southern Power and RES.