With construction set for completion last month, the 198 MW Bluestem wind project is ready to bring renewable energy to the state where – excuse the show-tune reference – the wind comes sweeping down the plain.
Developed by Renewable Energy Systems (RES) and subsequently sold to Exelon Generation in December 2015, the Bluestem wind farm features 60 Vestas 3.3 MW V117 turbines with approximately 100-meter towers and is located in Beaver County, part of the Oklahoma Panhandle.[adright zone=’190′]
RES began construction on the Bluestem project in mid-January 2016 and, as of press time, was slated to reach completion as the year came to a close. Once operational, the new wind farm will bring 845,000 MWh per year to the Southwest Power Pool.
Although Exelon is no stranger to wind power – currently standing as the nation’s 12th-largest wind producer, with 47 projects across 10 states and boasting nearly 1,500 MW of power – the Bluestem wind farm is the company’s first in Oklahoma.
Exelon is largely known for its nuclear generation, which represents 64% of its holdings – in fact, the company operates America’s largest fleet of nuclear power plants. In comparison, only about 5% of its holdings are related to renewable energy, such as wind and solar. That said, the company has been growing its portfolio of natural gas, hydro and renewables as of late.
The company brought its first wind project into full commercial operation in early 2012 and has only expanded since, maintaining high hopes for projects like Bluestem.
According to Exelon’s Bill Harris, the most notable aspect of the Bluestem project was simply how everything went so smoothly – especially considering there were nearly 200 participating landowners to consult.
To ensure lines of communication were open and to address any issues, if necessary, three landowner meetings were held at Balko High School in the local school district, starting last January.
According to Harris, the most recent landowners’ meeting – the last such gathering before the start of operations – was a “mutual admiration society.”[adleft zone=’190′]
Harris comments that Exelon worked together with RES, the project leadership team and the community to move forward on the Bluestem project, noting that there were minimal issues across the board.
As those in the industry know, that’s certainly not always the case.
“Having no remarkable construction or safety issues is a really positive thing,” Harris says.
When discussing Exelon’s other renewables ventures, Harris mentions that the development process for the 78 MW Sendero Wind Farm, an Exelon-owned wind project located in Hebbronville, Texas, went a bit differently, having faced some of the common hurdles for wind farm development.
“There was a lot more to manage and supervise with Sendero than we saw with Bluestem – people issues, land issues, violation issues,” he says. “A lot of it has to do with communication and making sure everything is clarified.”
According to Harris, Exelon purchased Bluestem for its key strengths, including the strong wind resource in the area; the flat and clear land; the strong connection to the transmission grid via new infrastructure; and lastly, but perhaps most significantly, the 15-year power purchase agreement already in place with Internet behemoth Google.
On Dec. 3, 2015, Google signed off on the Bluestem agreement as part of the company’s plans to add an additional 842 MW of renewable energy capacity over the next two years to power its data centers – its largest renewable energy purchase to date.
As a non-utility company, Google has been making headlines for its pledge to triple renewable energy purchases by 2025 and for its goal to power 100% of its operations with clean energy as early as 2017. These promises have certainly garnered attention, considering Google consumes approximately 5.7 TWh of electricity annually between its global data centers and offices, serving more than 1 billion people across the world.
As it stands, Google is currently the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world.
Besides the “green” aspect, wind farms like Bluestem can offer several advantages to companies like Google, considering how wind power is becoming increasingly cost-effective and development can boost job creation.
The Bluestem wind project, in particular, created 300 jobs during construction and will require a dozen full-time professionals during operation.
“It’s already been an economic boom with its construction,” Harris says. “It’s a huge capital investment for Exelon, and it’s provided hundreds of jobs during construction.”
Once in operation, Bluestem will benefit from the full value of the production tax credit (PTC) – although Harris notes that development would have gone forward even without the PTC’s helpful push. Bluestem was full-steam ahead from the start.
All things considered, operations in Beaver County are expected to go forward without a hitch – putting that “sweeping wind” to good use.