Crow LakeWind Powers Up

By Stephen A. Thompson, Assistant Editor

t’s billed as the largest co-op-owned wind-generation project in the country, with 108 turbines and more than 150 megawatts of generating capacity. Everything about it seems to be big.

The Crow Lake Wind Project is a venture of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a large generation and transmission co-op headquartered in Bismarck, N.D. Its members are 135 power distribution co-ops that serve 2.8 million customers in nine Midwestern states.

Crow Lake represents only part of Basin Electric’s initiative to draw 10 percent of its generating capacity from renewable sources. The effort also includes purchasing power from outside wind farms and building facilities that generate power by recovering waste heat produced by gas pipeline pumps.When the project is fully operational this spring, the co-op will have more than 700 megawatts of renewable generating capacity — about 12 percent of total capacity.

The project is a shared endeavor which includes the co-op’s 100 wind turbines and seven turbines that belong to a community-based, limited-liability corporation (LLC). One additional turbine is owned by a local technical school, which will use it for training turbine technicians. Basin Electric’s wholly owned subsidiary, PrairieWind SD 1 Inc., will operate and use the power of all 108 turbines.

Effort launched in ‘05
The impetus for the project came from a resolution passed by the cooperative’s members in 2005, which set the 10-percent renewable source goal for the year 2010. With the availability of local member systems and other facilities in an area with excellent wind resources, wind turbines were the natural way to go, says Basin Electric spokesman Daryl Hill.

Basin had been using wind-generated power prior to the Prairie Winds project. Its first wind project included a pair of 1.3-megawatt turbines in Chamberlain, S.D., about 40 miles west of Crow Lake, which were built in 2001. They were followed by two more turbines in Minot, N.D., and by a number of wind farms owned by developers from which the cooperative purchases power. In many cases, local member-distribution cooperatives act in partnership with Basin to provide transmission facilities.

In 2009, Basin completed the first phase of the Prairie Winds initiative, a 120-megawatt wind farm south of Minot. That project is owned by another Basin Electric subsidiary, PrairieWinds ND 1 Inc.

The site selected for the South Dakota project was chosen from among suitable areas not already claimed by competing wind developers. Computer models were used to select the most suitable locations for the towers, taking into consideration such factors as zoning requirements, local wind characteristics, elevation, etc. The selection process included consultations with local landowners, federal agencies and 14 Native American tribes. The entire area encompasses about 38,000 acres.

The Rural Utilities Service of USDA Rural Development is funding 60 percent of the $340 million project cost with a loan guarantee for $204 million.

Jim Headley, a local rancher, says that landowners in the area were, for the most part, eager to sign up to participate. Headley is a board member of Central Electric Cooperative, his local distribution co-op. He became a supporter of the project after learning about it from an acquaintance at Basin Electric. He then helped get the word out to his fellow landowners.

Those who chose to participate in the project agreed to a lease on their property for whatever number of turbines the project chose to install. Each of them initially received the same nominal fee in return for the lease, until the towers were built.

Landowner payments
The compensation each participant ultimately receives depends on the number of towers operating on his or her land. Comparative performance of the generators is not used in calculating payments. The compensation agreement and the leases are for 50 years, or until the towers are taken out of service and dismantled.

Some potential turbine sites, says Headley, turned out to have problems because construction might disturb potential archaeological sites or artifacts. That required some adjustments of the computer model for the project. Some participants were disappointed not to have more turbines installed on their property. But overall, he says, the towers have been well received by residents.

“They do totally change the landscape,” Headley says. “At first, you’re not sure about it, because it’s such a difference. After a while, though, you get used to them, just like anything else.” Although some have said that the noise of wind turbines makes them undesirable, Headley finds the sound they make is hardly noticeable.

“If you get close enough, you can hear them,” he says. “But it’s a very low sound, maybe like a distant jet or a train far away.” Headley says that when winds are high, the sound of the turbines is masked by the wind itself. “You’re more likely to hear them when the wind is low,” he says.

The positives, Headley believes, far outweigh the negatives. “Out of 38,000 acres, they’re really only disrupting about 110 acres,” he says. “Overall, I think it’s a positive thing for the grasslands here. It’s good for people’s income and offers something down the road for future generations.”

College training turbine techs
With a growing number of wind turbines in the area, the demand for trained technicians is growing as well. To meet that demand, Mitchell Technical Institute, a two-year college located in nearby Mitchell, S.D., started a training course in the fall of 2009.

The college already offered courses in powerline construction and maintenance, among other utilityrelated fields. It wanted to expand its offerings in the area of wind power, says spokesperson Julie Brookbank. With Basin Electric’s help, the school now has its own turbine as part of the Crow Lake project.

The college obtained $1.16 million in grant assistance from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It received further help from the South Dakota state government and cooperation with Basin Electric for construction. The remaining $1.72 million of the $3.2 million total cost of the turbine was financed with a bond, which it expects to pay off in 17 years from the proceeds of power sales.

Owning the turbine means that the college has unrestricted rights to it for training purposes. The school can shut down the unit whenever it chooses to allow students access to it. Liability insurance issues caused by using someone else’s turbine for training are also eliminated.

The first group of students in the program will have access to the turbine after the handover this March.

Another seven turbines are owned by South Dakota Wind Partners LLC, a community-based cooperative effort to give wind power investment opportunities to local residents. It was organized by four local organizations: East River Electric Co-op, the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council, the South Dakota Farmers Union and the South Dakota Farm Bureau.

Investors must be residents of South Dakota. They receive tax advantages as well as dividends and interest income. More than 600 investors are participating.

The drawback to power generated from wind, aside from higher costs, is one it shares with solar power: it cannot be used as a baseload power source because of its unreliability.

“You can’t count on wind to be there when you want it,” is the way Hill puts it. What wind generators can do is reduce the amount of fuel burned in conventional power plants when the wind is blowing.

Pipeline heat recovery
There are also ways to improve the cleanliness and efficiency of baseload generating capacity. The gas pipeline heat recovery units from which the coop purchases power are one example. While relatively small — eight units generate a total of 44 megawatts — the units provide a reliable, round-theclock source of power while burning no fuel at all.

The energy they use comes from the exhaust of natural gas-fueled turbines driving compressor pumps on a gas pipeline. It’s heat that otherwise would have been vented to the atmosphere, but in the recovery units it is used to transform a fluid into vapor that drives a turbine powering a generator. It’s both elegant and efficient.
B More conventional power sources are continually improving in efficiency as well. Construction is underway on the cooperative’s new Deer Creek Station, a 300-megawatt natural gasfired “combined-cycle” generating plant that also uses recovered heat. The primary generator is driven by a turbine that burns natural gas, while its exhaust heat is used to produce steam to drive a second turbine-generator set.

The water used to generate the steam is also recovered and used again. The plant is to be used as an “intermediate” supply source — as opposed to either a “peak load” generator, which is kept in reserve to handle extraordinary power demands, or a baseload source, which operates more or less continually.

The system design allows it to be started and stopped economically. It starts operating to supply power during periods of higher demand, then shuts down when the load tapers off. The plant is scheduled to go into service in June of 2012.

The most inexpensive way to generate baseload power remains burning coal, especially when the power plant is located near the source of fuel. Dry Fork Station is Basin Electric’s newest coal-fired plant, currently under construction near Gillette, Wyo. It’s coowned with the Wyoming Municipal Power Agency and will be maintained and operated by the co-op. The facility is being built next to its fuel source — the Dry Fork Mine.

The 385-megawatt plant uses the latest clean-burning, high-temperature boiler design and scrubber technology to minimize emissions. The Germandesigned reflux circulating fluid bed dry scrubber is described by Basin as “stateof- the-art” in removing sulfur dioxide from the exhaust while using a minimal amount of water.

The new-design temperaturecontrolled boiler and catalytic converters also reduce nitrous oxides. The plant uses air cooling to condense steam for reuse, instead of the more widely used water-cooled cooling towers — important because the plant is not located close to a large water source and has to pump its water from deep wells.

The cooperative says that a quarter of the plant’s cost is for emissions controls, and that the site is designed to allow the adoption of carbon-recapture technology, if it becomes necessary. Experimental carbon-sequestration technology is also being explored by the cooperative at its Antelope Valley Station in North Dakota. One of the co-op’s subsidiaries, Dakota Gasification Co., recaptures and sequesters some of the carbon dioxide produced by converting coal to gas.

When all the current energy expansion plans are finished, the cooperative projects its total generating capacity — both owned and purchased — will be 5,004 megawatts. Of that amount, about 750 megawatts will come from renewable sources. With its aggressive approach to clean power production, Basin Electric illustrates the co-op sector’s dedication to the communities it serves.

March/April Table of Contents