There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about EDF Renewable Energy’s 184 MW Kelly Creek wind farm – unless you happen to be a fan of well-executed projects. Indeed, the flat and wide-open spaces that characterize Illinois farmland – as well as access to a robust transmission network within PJM Interconnection – made building here virtually risk-free.
At press time, each of the wind farm’s 92 Vestas V100 turbines (perched on 80-meter towers) has been erected, assembled and energized, notes Jon Baker, EDF Renewable Energy’s development manager. The wind farm, located in Kankakee and Iroquois Counties, Ill., will interconnect to the grid at the Kensington Avenue substation.[adright zone=’190′]
The wind farm is being built at a time when several projects are sitting idle due to the state of Illinois’ well-documented struggles with its renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Given the loopholes in the state’s existing RPS, it was unlikely that a traditional utility would step forward and sign a power purchase agreement (PPA) for the energy produced by the project. (For more on Illinois and its RPS struggles, see “Advocates Eye Upcoming Legislative Session To Fix RPS Bill,” on page 14.)
Therefore, the electricity generated by the Kelly Creek wind farm will be sold on the open market within PJM Interconnection. That the wind farm is progressing without a PPA does not faze the developer.
“The PJM market is very liquid,” Baker says. “It is a vibrant market of buyers and sellers.”
The history behind the Kelly Creek wind farm is not particularly unusual. The project was originally known as the K4 wind farm and was developed by Cincinnati-based Vision Energy LLC, which designed the project, put together the land agreements and obtained permits from the counties. Oakland, Calif.-based Orion Energy Group later partnered with Vision Energy to continue late-stage development activities, which ultimately culminated in the sale to EDF in July 2014.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the project – which also added considerably to the project’s timeline – was its proximity to a radar facility in Joliet, Ill., which tracks aircraft. In 2009, the Department of Defense (DOD)and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) objected to the proposed turbine layout, fearing the wind turbines would interfere with radar. The incident was one of many at the time that involved wind turbines and radar. The concern was that operators would be unable to distinguish between a moving wind turbine and a potential threat. By 2013, the DOD lifted its objection and the FAA issued a determination of no hazard.[adleft zone=’190′]
Ryan McGraw, Orion Energy Group’s president, credits Vision Energy’s early leadership, particularly in assembling a group of powerful and influential landowners who continued to support the project in times of economic and regulatory uncertainty.
“Without the landowner group – who supported the project in their local communities – I’m not sure this project would have been built,” McGraw says.
“After the sale, EDF Renewable Energy planned to build two separate projects,” notes David Sawyer, EDF’s program manager, adding that both projects maintained separate queue positions within PJM’s transmission network.
In September 2015, EDF completed the 175 MW Pilot Hill wind farm, which is powered by both Vestas and GE turbine technology. As was the case with Kelly Creek, signed PPAs with traditional utility buyers were non-existent. However, Microsoft Corp. has agreed to purchase 100% of the project’s output to help power its Chicago-area data center.
Generally speaking, the inability to sign power agreements has hindered most wind development activity in the state. Therefore, some wind projects have sat idle for many years as project momentum ebbs and flows. And that can be a problem, especially for community relations, Baker says.
Because the project has languished for long periods of time, Baker and Sawyer credit the landowners for continuing to support the project.
“This is a project that changed hands,” Baker says, adding that any time a project goes from one developer to another, the project owner needs to keep updating and communicating the value proposition. And in the case of Kelly Creek (and Pilot Hill), that project meant the promise of local jobs used for construction.[adright zone=’190′]
For example, both wind farms used labor from Local 150 Operators Union, Local 444 Iron Workers Union and some operating engineers from Local 841.
EDF also benefited, Baker notes, as the developer says the quality of its work has been instrumental in ensuring a successful project.
“We learned a lot from their work on Pilot Hill,” he explains. “The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is Illinois farmland. And we paid attention to certain local considerations, such as making sure there was no soil erosion or that drainage tiles were not damaged.”
Both wind farms will also inject a much-needed revenue stream into the local communities.
Because wind farms are designed to last 25 years or longer, it is not uncommon for communities to expect more than $30 million in property taxes and tens of millions more in landowner payments over the life of the projects. Therefore, the taxes generated by the wind farm will also go a long way, as well.
Based on current tax rates for the local counties hosting the projects and the current method used to calculate property taxes on wind turbines within Illinois, EDF Renewable Energy estimates that the Pilot Hill and Kelly Creek projects will each contribute more than $2 million annually in local property taxes for the first several years.