If you travel eight miles south of Concordia, Kan., the majestic sight of wind turbines stretches along either side of U.S 81. Recently, Thayer County Economic Development Alliance sponsored a tour for 17 Thayer County landowners and tenants to EDP Renewables Wind Farm to learn about the opportunities that wind generation might bring to Thayer County. The participants represented two proposed Thayer County wind power projects along Road Q or “monument road” between Belvidere and Hebron and along Nebraska Highway 8 in the Byron area.
Lucas Chavey, Site Lead Technician from EDP Renewables, and Michelle Graham, Operations Administrator shared slides of the construction process of the 67 wind turbines. The base of each turbine held 50 truckloads of cement to provide the foundation for a 262-foot tall, 160-ton steel tower. Three 144-foot, 8-ton blades connect to 70 tons of gearbox, transformer, and generator housed at the top of the tower.
The turbines were in action for the group as the 20 mph wind was sufficient to produce power for approximately 60,000 homes. One of the main questions of the group was the noise of a turbine, and many were quite surprised at how quiet the turbines were. Turbine noise was much less than the noise of bin fans and other grain handling equipment. “I’d trade the noise of the trains that rumble past our house every day for the noise of a turbine,” said Gina Hudson, coordinator of the tour and an individual that has worked hard to bring the opportunity of windpower to Thayer County.
The EDP technician shared that the towers housed internal 2-ton cranes to hoist up tools and equipment, though a special crane would be needed to replace the 22,000 pound generator that is the size of a volkswagon. They joked that technicians weren’t afraid of heights and were in good shape as it was quite a climb to reach the gearbox and transformer, especially if outside temps were 80 degrees or above, as the inside temperatures were likely to reach 100 degrees or higher.
Throughout the presentation and tour, the EDP staff explained that wind power is becoming more competitive and a source of economic development in a variety of ways. Initially turbines were built overseas, adding to the cost. Since a turbine manufacturing plant has started in Colorado, the cost of shipping and installation has gone down significantly. Also, wind plants enter into 20 year contracts to supply electricity. The price is locked in for that period of time, making “wind a hedge against the volatility of oil, natural gas, and coal prices.”
Construction of a wind farm can be a shot in the arm to a county, bringing the obvious benefits to local motels, restaurants, as well as dirt and cement contractors. County road improvement was also a benefit. Some of the roads were widened and heavily graveled to accommodate the semi’s, cranes, and other construction equipment as well as for on-going maintenance. The project has also brought new people to the county. Technicians live locally and monitor the power generation with sophisticated computer networks on site, with remote access from their homes. In Kansas, a gift tax from the wind farm is funneled into the surrounding communities for improvements for the library, streets, ball parks, and the Brown Grand theater renovation.
The wind farm undergoes an annual wildlife study. The prairie chicken that was of concern has actually shown to have increased in flock size.
The wind farm has no restrictions on hunting except that they ask for good communication with the landowners so that technicians are not servicing a turbine while hunters are on site. They noted that it is a federal offense to shoot at a turbine, and were happy to report that they had not had any problems with criminal mischief. Farmers were able to plant crops right up to the wind turbine. Cattle and elk from a local elk farm also grazed right around the turbines. In fact, technicians reported that cattle would seek the shade from the turbine and actually fan out the length of the tower shadow to enjoy reprieve from the heat. Underground cables transfer the produced electricity to a substation with very few overhead transmission lines. Spray planes continue to dust the crops, flying around the turbines.
The Concordia plant’s capacity is 300 megawatts of power. The Monument Road windpower project is proposed for 80 megawatts of electricity while Byron landowners are also considering an 80 megawatt project after one year of meteorologic tower data has shown higher than expected wind results, making it an excellent option for a wind power project.
The tour was sponsored by Thayer County Economic Development with tour coordination by Gina Hudson, spokesperson of the Monument Road Windpower Landowners.