Hartland Wind Farm is a work-in-progress
Posted 11/30/11 (Wed)
By Caroline Downs
Hartland Wind Farm principal Curt Johnson understands when landowners who have committed their acres to the project in Ward, Burke and Mountrail counties ask if any progress is being made.
“It’s like painting a wall,” he said at one of three landowner meetings held in Minot on November 9th and 10th. “You’ve got hours of prep work before you do that five minutes of painting.”
Johnson, principal Craig Swenson and engineer Mark Hutter of Michels Corporation talked with nearly 80 landowners during the three sessions about the status of the project, a work-in-progress for the past three and one-half years that proposes to develop some 2000 megawatts (MW) of electricity from wind turbines. To date, 137,000 acres have been signed for the project.
And that project continues to roll forward, although many of the steps taken recently have had little direct impact on the landowners.
Johnson opened the meeting with a summary of Hartland Wind Farm’s commitment to energy independence for America. He also discussed the development of the region’s wind resource, with over two years’ worth of data from six meteorological towers analyzed at a Class 7 level, the highest rating possible.
“The wind energy in the Hartland Wind Farm area is some of the best in the western hemisphere and certainly in the United States,” said Johnson, adding that area residents lived with that knowledge already.
He introduced Hutter of Michels Corporation, a family-owned utility contractor based in Brownsville, WI, with projects across the United States and more than 3,600 MW of wind farm construction experience. Michels Corporation has been engaged to provide pre-construction planning, engineering and permitting support for the Hartland project. The 52-year-old company has been involved in the state with a Keystone Pipeline compression station construction project as well as the Bison Wind Farm built at Center.
“We’ve been brought in to provide some project management,” said Hutter. “At Michels, environmental concerns and safety are really key.”
Johnson reviewed the role of wind energy in the state’s goal of becoming the top energy exporting state in the country and noted that Hartland Wind Farm intends to contribute toward producing 10 percent of the state’s energy from renewable resources by the year 2015.
He also emphasized the project’s intentions to cooperate with landowners’ oil interests. “The last thing we want is to have you consider us a real burden,” he said. “We should be able to manage to get a turbine up around where an oil well is or is going to be. We have a pretty good idea of the area of the Bakken formation and we’re trying to stay out of the way.”
Application submitted for
transmission with MISO
Johnson directed the discussion toward transmission, one of the biggest challenges faced by the project. “When we started three and a half years ago, we knew there wasn’t any infrastructure up here,” he said, “meaning any transmission lines.”
A major interstate transmission upgrade from North Dakota to Chicago and connections to points east has been discussed, and interest in such a project has been shown by major utility companies such as American Electric Power. However, the country’s economic troubles and resistance from senators and congressmen from the eastern coal mining states have slowed progress on the upgrade.
In the meantime, Hartland Wind Farm and partner Montgomery Midwest Transmission have engaged in discussions with the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) to provide about 600 MW to customers on the grid in the Dakotas and east to Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
“We’re planning on a regional basis for transmission,” explained Hutter.
Hartland Wind Farm submitted an application in April 2011 for an approximately 90-mile segment line to connect to the Coal Creek Substation. The 245 kilovolt line included in the application has a double circuit preliminary design and could be expanded for future transmission needs.
Electricity to be sent on the proposed transmission line would be generated from wind turbines placed in the Phase I section at the southern end of the entire Hartland Wind Farm project. The selling price for this wind-generated power will be at regional rates, most likely a lower price than the Eastern markets that could be served by a larger interstate transmission project.
The application is currently in the Strategic Planning Process with MISO through February 2012. If approved, the application advances to the Definitive Planning Process. “The next six months are going to be critical,” said Hutter.
“We’re still pursuing the larger line,” Johnson added, “but we’re going to pursue the localized line first through MISO and we’re very excited about this.”
Audience members asked about merging with other, larger electricity markets in the future, which Hutter agreed was a likely option. “With MISO, the picture is constantly evolving,” he said, describing a new transmission line now under construction south of Minneapolis as one example. “There are more options than there were three years ago, but it’s not a clear path.”
Advances in turbine technology
Even with two years of data on wind velocity and direction, barometric pressure and temperature, the MET towers continue to collect data as the project engineers determine the most efficient size of wind turbine to use.
Originally, the project expected to set up the standard 1.5 MW wind turbine generators available, but the data suggest larger turbines will be necessary.
“The size of the project’s turbines is going to be increasing and that’s good news for landowners,” Hutter said. “We’ll be creating two times the amount of energy on one plot of land. That will have less impact.”
Members of the audience asked if a particular size had been chosen, and Johnson said the Hartland Wind Farm may use a variety of sizes, depending on the engineers’ recommendations for the sites. “They’re talking about four megawatt turbines in some cases,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean the turbine is four times bigger.”
He compared wind turbine technology to changes in cell phone technology. “They’ve increased in their efficiency,” he said, “and the advancement is extraordinary.”
One example he described related to the turbines’ ability to operate in high wind conditions. Most turbines erected even a few years ago automatically stop turning at certain wind speeds to prevent damage. The turbines under consideration for Hartland Wind Farm can “shift gears” in high winds.
“So they keep turning instead of shutting down in those conditions,” said Johnson.
Some landowners were curious about which turbine manufacturers would be providing Hartland Wind Farm equipment. “We’re talking to all of them,” Johnson said. “It’s a competitive market. The cost of turbines has dropped 30 percent at least, with the changes in the national economy and the new changes in technology. You get more megawatts per dollar.”
Three years of data and
While landowners were curious about placement of the turbines, Hutter explained how Michels Corporation is working behind the scenes on the required permitting process and macro-siting details of the project. “We work with regulatory agencies on the state and federal levels all the time,” he said. “Our approach is to be collaborative with the agencies whenever possible.”
For three years, Hartland Wind Farm has been conducting avian and biological surveys of the project area, and meeting with representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to discuss a strategic plan to develop and construct the wind farm.
“Since 2008, we’ve been doing studies to monitor migratory birds through the project area and to look at nesting impact,” Hutter said. “We need at least two distinct seasons of work in order to have data the agencies will respect.”
“We’ve been identifying habitat that is critical to certain plant and animal species,” added Johnson. “For example, we’ve had to consider the nesting requirements of the piping plover.”
Hutter noted the biological data is now being analyzed and interpreted. “That allows us to come up with a mitigation plan,” he said. “So far, Hartland Wind Farm has fewer environment impacts than we’ve found in some of our other projects, which makes it easier for us to come up with a plan that will work.”
Engineers have also been working on GIS mapping of the Hartland Wind Farm project since 2009, noting archaeological, weapons and other sites of interest and control points for data. They have also cross-checked the information with aerial photography and Lidar data collection.
Another important aspect of their work involves section corner recovery, which started in the spring of 2011. Engineers have been reviewing old government survey notes and county section corner documents to compare against field observations. In some cases, the monuments for the section corners have had to be re-set.
“We have to confirm these section corners to establish the location for the turbines,” said Hutter. “We’ll be laying a control network that includes all the different exclusions and where we’re planning to locate all these turbines, also taking into account the variables provided from the turbine manufacturers.”
Landowners to be consulted about turbine placement
That is just the news Swenson has been waiting to hear for three years. “We have to get the engineers’ input regarding the property,” he said, “and then a Certificate of Survey will be developed, within the next six months to a year.”
With a Certificate of Survey in hand, Swenson will visit each of the signed landowners in the project area and talk about turbine placement. “We’ll lay out how we propose to use each particular piece of property,” he said. “Then, I’ll go back to the engineers with that information.”
He noted that landowners’ input will be critical in this stage. “For example, one landowner has told us about the location of teepee rings on his property,” he said. Other input could be related to farming operations, temporary wetlands, roads or other factors on the ground.
“I see this as being fun,” Swenson said as he talked about matching data points to actual conditions on the landscape, “and I’m looking forward to seeing how we can put this thing together!”
As the details regarding turbine placement and the transmission project with MISO come together in the next few months, Swenson said Hartland Wind Farm will be looking to finalize the project site. “We’ve tried to keep folks up-to-date with our newsletters and meetings,” he added. “Many folks have been asking if they can still sign up to have their land considered in the Hartland Wind Farm project. The answer is ‘Yes,’, but that deadline is now by January 2012.”
He emphasized that the documents signed by the nearly 400 landowners already committed to the project are identical and will remain that way. “This project continues to move forward because of you, the landowner,” he said, “and we sincerely thank you.”
For more information about the Hartland Wind Farm project or to discuss signing acres with the project, contact Swenson at Denali Energy in Pequot Lakes, MN, by calling 218-568-6500 or toll-free at 877-557-1031.
“This is an opportunity,” he said, “and we want to include everybody in this opportunity who wants to join in, but the ship is about to sail!”