Wind Capital's 150 MW Lost Creek wind farm, scheduled to be Missouri's largest, is the first project the company will own and operate.
BY MARK DEL FRANCO - North American WINDPOWER®
reprinted with permission from the February 2010 issue
St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group is no stranger to developing wind projects. The company, which was founded by Missouri resident Tom Carnahan, has developed and sold 600 MW of installed capacity and built another 163 MW in partnership with John Deere Renewable Energy.
However, the 150 MW Lost Creek wind project, located in DeKalb County, Mo., represents a sea change for the five-year-old company. Lost Creek is the first wind project the developer will own and operate, as opposed to only building and selling – something for which Carnahan himself had to become accustomed.
"Owning and operating a project is a completely different business model," he says, adding that owning wind projects requires substantial capital investment.
"Owners and operators need a balance sheet, because being an owner/ operator means securing turbines, which are the major capital expenses," he explains. "When we bought our
turbines for Lost Creek in spring 2008, there were substantial hurdles, not the least of which were down payments required by the turbine suppliers."
Of course, during troubled economic times, it does not hurt to have friends with deep pockets and strong relationships. As Wind Capital grew, it attracted the attention of NTR, a Dublin, Ireland-based financier that previously owned developer Airtricity. NTR has since become Wind Capital's partner. Having gained credibility and brought resources to the table, Wind Capital signed a $240 million construction loan and letter of credit with a group of international lenders,including Nord/LB, BayernLB, Rabobank, Banco Santander and Union Bank in October 2009.
Lost Creek is also noteworthy because, once finished, it will represent Missouri's largest wind project. The project also received a fair amount of publicity last year when Vice President Joe Biden invoked the project's name during a visit to ABB's production plant in Jefferson City.
Politically speaking, Biden's appearance should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Missouri politics. Carnahan's brother, Russ, is a three-term Missouri congressman. His father, Mel, was governor and U.S. senator-elect (elected posthumously in 2000). Carnahan's mother, Jean, was appointed to fill her late husband's Senate seat.
Lost Creek will sell electricity to Associated Electrical Cooperative Inc., a provider of energy to six regional and 51 local electric cooperatives in Missouri, Oklahoma and Iowa, via a 20-year power purchase agreement. The power generated at Lost Creek will feed into NW Electric Cooperative transmission lines.
Lost Creek features 100 GE 1.5 MW XLE turbines, the successor to the SLE model. According to a GE spec sheet, the XLE turbine features a 15% greater swept area than the SLE model.
Construction on Lost Creek started in July 2009 and is expected to be completed around mid-2010, about a month ahead of schedule.
"We were able to get construction started, despite a wet fall," explains Dean Baumgardner, Wind Capital's executive vice president. "We were able to mobilize our crews early, and GE Energy expedited our turbine delivery schedule." All of Lost Creek's turbine foundations have been poured. And, as of early January, nearly 30 turbines had been fully erected. Construction will continue through the winter months.
"Although the cold weather can be hard on crews, the frozen ground allows us to walk the cranes from one turbine to the next," he says.
Madison, Wis.-based RMT served as the balance-of-plant contractor responsible for engineering and construction. RMT provided engineering, procurement, and civil and electrical infrastructure construction services. The civil and electrical infrastructure
includes roads, crane paths and pads, turbine foundations, an underground collector system, intower wiring and the construction of two meteorological towers.
For Baumgardner, Wind Capital's expanded role in ownership also meant working closely with GE to coordinate turbine deliveries and components.
"Our work with GE and other turbine manufacturers has grown considerably in our role as an owner and operator of wind farms," he says. "We are purchasing turbines directly and are responsible for coordinating with GE on the delivery of all components."
Because it requires nine tractortrailers to transport one complete turbine, Lost Creek will require more than 900 deliveries. However, it is not enough that the deliveries arrive on time; they must also arrive in the proper sequence. For example, Baumgardner explains, you do not want the nacelle arriving before the tower. Towers, he says, are delivered in three sections: the base, the midsection and the top.
"Trying to keep track is a big task," he says. "It's very much a jigsaw puzzle, for which you need to have contingencies in place."
Once all the turbines are erected, GE will inspect the installations to make sure they are mechanically complete and ready to operate. The manufacturer then tests each turbine
to ensure that all the components are functioning properly and are capable of producing energy. According to Baumgardner, commissioning will begin as the balance of the wind turbines gets erected.
When Lost Creek is completed, Carnahan's wind career will have come full circle. It was not that long ago when developing a wind project in Missouri would have raised eyebrows. In fact, when he started the company in 2005, no utility-scale wind projects existed in Missouri.
Although the state does not rank very high in wind resources, some areas are good. Carnahan says the state has suffered because of a perception of a lack of wind and a reliance on coal.
"In northwestern Missouri, we see wind regimes that are more like what you would see in Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa," he explains. "The early wind maps didn't do a very good job
of showing that."
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