Rural Electric Cooperative Completes $240 Million Wind Farm in 4 Months

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A North Dakota rural electric cooperative made history on New Year’s Eve, in completing the nation’s largest wind project to be entirely owned by a consumer cooperative.

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The $240 million, 115.5 MW wind farm was begun in August and completed a mere four months later; three and a half hours before midnight on the last night of 2009. GE supplied the 77 1.5 MW turbines.

North Dakota’s Basin Electric is a rural electricity cooperative that generates and transmits electricity to 136 member rural electric systems in nine states: indirectly serving about 2.8 million consumers in nine states.

By the end of 2010 the cooperative hopes that it will produce 20% of its electricity from wind power for its 2.8 million rural consumers in parts of rural Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Achieving that lofty goal will be quite a leap. In 2005 Basin Electric got 94% of its electricity from coal and less than 1% from wind.

But if any organization can do it, it would be one that can build a 115 MW wind farm in four months. One that got the preliminary environmental reviews and permitting done in just one Spring during which they:

  • Completed an Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act
  • Communicated with the county and townships, seeking input/approval on project development, construction and operation
  • Conducted landowner meetings seeking input to identify farming needs in relation to site layout
  • Coordinated and received input from multiple state and federal agencies
  • Developed a site layout that avoids wetlands, cultural resources, residences, roads and transmission lines
  • Received a Certificate of Site Compatibility from the North Dakota Public Service Commission

Though the Prairie Winds 1 farm is spread out across 30,000 acres (the larger a wind farm is; the more it helps in evening out wind intermittency, as its always blowing somewhere), each turbine actually requires less than one acre of land, and farming can take place around the turbines.

Cooperatives have no taxes, as they make no profits. Margins must be used to improve or maintain operations, set aside in reserves, or distributed to the membership. As a result, they are not eligible for the 30% production tax credits that can make financing new renewable energy projects easier.

But, to make up for that, of about $2 billion in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds that have been made available by the Department of Energy for non-profits like schools and churches to build renewable energy, about $460 million went to rural electricity cooperatives.

But maybe that proportion should be looked at again, for three reasons.

1. Rural empty states are where the wind is.

2. Rural empty states are where electricity cooperatives are.

3. Rural empty state’s cooperatives are beating national averages in bringing the most renewable energy online the fastest.

Renewable capacity among rural electricity cooperatives grew 65% in 2008. The rest of us: 25%.

Related stories:

100% Wind Powered Island off Maine Financed Using Electricity Coop

Image: Basin Electric

Source:  Prairie Business

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