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Hartland Wind Farm in a lull but plans are progressing

Progress on the Hartland Wind Farm, a 1,000-megawatt energy project under development in northern Ward, Burke and Mountrail counties, continues even though most of the present work is taking place in offices and around tables far from project site itself.

2/24/10 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

Progress on the Hartland Wind Farm, a 1,000-megawatt energy project under development in northern Ward, Burke and Mountrail counties, continues even though most of the present work is taking place in offices and around tables far from project site itself.
 
Hartland Wind Farm principal Curt Johnson of Denali Energy in Baxter, MN, described the progress first by referring to the past. “The planning and assessment for this started in November and December 2007, and all things are good in a general assessment,” he said. “We’re probably three to six months behind where we wanted to be when we started.”
 
He linked the current delay to the downturn in the national economy and the focus on health care insurance reform by Congress in recent months, rather than dealing with legislation that would address upgrades and expansion of the nation’s power grid, including plans for the proposed Green Power Express to transport energy generated in North Dakota to Chicago and markets east.
 
“Depending on what happens in Washington, D.C. and the national economy, that’s a gap could close quickly,” he said. “Everything else is panning out.”
 
He ticked off a list of steps completed or in the process of completion for the wind farm to progress. “We have 140,000 acres committed,” he said, “and the first phase of the engineering is complete. The avian studies are done, and so is the wind assessment.”
 
He explained data collected during the past 12 to 18 months had been used for the evaluations required to project the wind farm’s impact on wetlands, wildlife and bird species in the area, including endangered whooping cranes that migrate through the area. Hartland Wind Farm has filed a Habitat Conservation Plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Region office in Denver.
 
“In that plan, we declare what we’re going to do, the impact we think it may have and ways to mitigate that impact,” he said. “It takes about a year to a year and a half to do this.”
 
Representatives from Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson, the engineering firm for the Hartland Wind Farm, have worked through the process with the USFWS. Johnson described the federal agency as being proactive and supportive of the project. “We’ve identified and know the species of wildlife out there,” said Johnson. “And we’re not trying to jam a whole bunch of turbines on one acre. We’re able to put turbines where it makes sense to put them, so it’s not going to encroach on a lot of wetlands.”
 
He noted the avian studies had shown little or no evidence of massive mortality due to the presence of wind turbines, although studies of impacts on bats in this area still need to be done this year. “As far as the whooping crane goes, we are cognizant of that and will put measures in place,” he said. “Our biggest concern there is not the turbines, but the transmission lines.”
 
The current plan for new transmission lines involves marking those lines with a variety of reflectors that have been successful with bird species in other areas of the country. The wind farm will take other steps as necessary, too, including restricting the use of turbines during migratory periods or even removing a turbine from a specific location if deemed necessary, although electricity would still be supplied through the firming process with natural gas.
 
“There are things we can do and things we intend to do that will mitigate any concerns,” Johnson said. “We’ll continue working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the turbines are in place and keep monitoring them throughout the life of the project. We can test the inspection process and remedy problems.”
 
Bigger turbines needed
Through the recent engineering work and data analysis, one significant change for the project has been determined. “We’ve had good information about the wind profile here,” said Johnson, adding that two years’ worth of data was reviewed. “We’ve looked at the locations of the turbines, the size of the turbines and the wind tendencies, and our wind is too strong for the type of turbine we first specified.”
 
The project had called for 1.5 megawatt GE turbines, similar to those installed recently for the PrairieWinds ND 1 project south of Minot. Johnson explained as the Hartland Wind Farm engineers were making the final assessments for turbine locations, looking at the array of turbines that would be sited and the sense of energy generation potential, a need was seen for a larger turbine.
 
 “Now, we’re looking at a Vestas turbine,” Johnson said. “They are the largest turbine manufacturer in the world, a Danish company [with U.S. operations] based in Portland, Oregon, and they’re planning to build a new factory near Denver, Colorado.”
 
He continued, “The good news is that we can go to a larger machine, from the 1.5 megawatt GE turbine to the 2 megawatt Vestas. This will generate more electricity and generate more revenue per turbine.”
 
The total number of turbines in the wind project is estimated to decrease slightly. “There should be 8.5 to 9 Vestas turbines for every 10 GE turbines specified,” said Johnson. “The offset should be pretty par. The goal is to maximize the [wind] resource, and we’ll see a net benefit.”
 
Transmission and national
energy policy keys to
Hartland Wind Farm progress
Johnson acknowledged the national debate on health care and President Obama’s focus on nuclear energy during his State of the Union address had slowed progress on changes needed for the national electrical grid, including construction of the Green Power Express in the Midwest.
 
However, American Electric Power (AEP) and ITC Holdings Corporation, the two companies behind that project, remain committed. “From a national security perspective, this has not changed,” said Johnson. “The grid still needs to have the kind of upgrades we’ve been talking about, to remedy its integrity and reliability.”
 
And while the Green Power Express would be anchored near the Hartland Wind Farm, the new transmission line would transport energy produced by other means.
 
“This line is not exclusive to our project or to wind,” explained Johnson. “The Green Power Express would also enable the transmission of electricity produced by natural gas, by coal gasification, by whatever means. The diversity of using all these resources together will be beneficial.”
 
While Johnson is not directly opposed to the development of more nuclear energy plants, he hopes the current federal administration will see the value of developing all available resources. “The strength of the resource is the reason we’re here,” he said. “We’re not your boutique wind farm to serve a smaller purpose. We’re here because of the massive [wind] resource that’s the best in the nation.”
 
One bright spot for progress of the Hartland Wind Farm, the Green Power Express and other energy projects is Senate Bill 1462, legislation currently under consideration with extensive bipartisan support. “This bill would advance the efforts for Hartland Wind Farm and other energy development in North Dakota,” said Johnson.
 
The American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 contains, among other things, provisions for diversity in the energy sector, development of more electrical transmission, interstate planning, and mandates for higher percentages of power generated through renewable sources.
 
“It’s a good bill, not burdened with cap and trade issues,” said Johnson. “It has significant support on both sides of the aisle, and it is very, very key to moving our project forward.”
 
He encouraged local residents interested in Hartland Wind Farm and the proposed transmission line project to indicate their support by contacting North Dakota Senators Dorgan and Conrad.
 
He also suggested that landowners and other parties who would like to see progress on the Hartland Wind Farm contact U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada, who controls the Senate calendar. “I’d lobby anyone to fire off an e-mail or call Harry Reid’s office and ask him to pull that bill off,” said Johnson. “His phone number is 202-224-3542 or toll-free 1-866-736-7343.”
 
Senator Reid’s office can also be reached online at reid.senate.gov/contact, where an email contact form is made available.
 
Back to work this spring
According to Johnson, area residents should see local activity with the wind farm picking up again this spring, depending on weather conditions. “We’ll be scoping for the second phase in April or May,” he said. “We realize there’s been a little bit of a lull.”
 
Hartland Wind Farm remains committed to landowners who have signed on with the project, after making the third distribution of payments in January for the option agreements. Johnson also noted several million dollars have been invested in the project to this point.
 
“We’ve made a significant connection with the landowners, and they’ve made a significant connection back,” he said. “I don’t see that changing.”
 
For more information about Hartland Wind Farm, contact Johnson or principal Craig Fink at 1-877-557-1031 or visit the Hartland Wind Farm website at www.hartlandwindfarm.com.