Operational Functionality of Renewable Energy Projects
Four additional renewable energy projects in the U.S. are the Nellis Air Force Base Solar Power Plant in Nevada, the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm in Indiana, the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island, and the Cove Fort Geothermal Power Plant in Utah. Pain points for wind farms are insufficient resources, regulation, and approval, while those for solar farms are siting, assessment, and infrastructural challenges. Additional findings surrounding the operational functionality of renewable energy projects have been outlined below.
1. Nellis Air Force Base Solar Power Plant, Nevada (Nellis Air Force Base as the Developer)
- The Nellis Air Force Base solar power plant was completed in 2007 in Nevada. The land was provided by the Nellis Air Force, with part of it being a landfill. In total, there are 70,000 solar panels covering 140 acres of land.
- Nellis had considered solar options from various companies for several years. However, the plans did not actualize because the solar power and installation costs were high. Also, Air Force regulations barred the base from investing in a power project that was more costly than electricity purchased from the local utility company.
- In the end, an open bidding process at the start of 2007 selected SunPower as the partner of choice. The company was chosen for its vast experience with utility-scale projects. It also offered Nellis a premier system bid at a price that was lower than the local utility's rates. Labor was sourced by the energy purchaser.
- The project did not need any out-of-pocket financial investment by the U.S. Air Force. Under the terms of the Sunpower Power Purchase Agreement, MMA Renewable Ventures financed and currently owns the system. Through the agreement, MMA Renewable Ventures sells power to Nellis at a guaranteed rate for the next 20 years.
- MMA Renewable Ventures closed the fund for the system with financing commitments being obtained from Allstate, Merrill Lynch, John Hancock Financial Services, and Citi.
- SunPower was also able to help Nellis broker "Renewable Energy Credits" with Nevada Power. This further reduced the project's cost.
- The power plant distributes close to 32,000 megawatt-hours of electricity every year which is distributed within the Air Force Base.
2. Fowler Ridge Wind Farm, Indiana (Orion Energy, LLC and Vision Energy, LLC as the Developers)
- Fowler Ridge Wind Farm can be found in Benton County, Indiana.
- It is spread over 50,000 acres and is one of the biggest onshore wind farms worldwide.
- The project area comprises lands that are leased by the Permittees for operating the project. The project area includes land that is leased for other facilities that are associated with the project such as the meteorological tower, connector lines, and the collection system.
- For phase one, two, and three, the land was leased from 239 landowners. The temporarily disturbed areas due to the construction and land above underground facilities were restored to the "agricultural vegetation type" after construction. For phase four, the land was leased from 50 landowners. All the leases were signed for 30 years with the option of extending to 50 years.
- Development happened in four phases, with the first three phases of the wind farm being jointly owned and operated by Dominion Resources and BP Alternative Energy North America. Each had a 50% stake in it. The fourth phase is owned and operated by Pattern Energy Group.
- Fowler Ridge has a capacity of 750MW. This is sufficient to meet the consumption requirements of about 200,000 average American homes.
- Phase one's construction began in April 2008, and it offered 350 job opportunities during construction. There are 36 full-time positions for jobs involving monitoring and maintaining the operations. The plant can produce 400MW of electricity which is distributed to 120,000 average American homes.
- Funding assistance for some aspects of the project such as environmental protection was obtained in the form of a surety. The surety was funded through the reduction of a percentage of the Permittees' earned revenue. The total cost for the development was $77.2 million.
- Phase two produces 200MW of electricity, and it meets the consumption needs of 50,000 American homes.
- The third phase started operating in 2009, and it produces 100MW of electricity, supplying power to 30,000 families.
- Phase four began operations in 2015 and it supplies 150MW of power to 50,000 homes.
3. Block Island Wind Farm, Rhode Island (Deepwater Wind as the Developer)
- Block Island Wind Farm is a 300MW offshore facility that was developed by Deepwater Wind. It is located 4.8 km south-east of Block Island, Rhode Island.
- Deepwater Wind leveraged Tetra Tech for siting, permitting, and environmental evaluation.
- Tetra Tech ensured that environmental assessments were done as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Impact assessments were also conducted to determine the effect of the project's location on public health and safety, cultural, water, biological, and visual resources.
- It began operating in 2016 and is the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S.
- The project was granted federal approval in September 2014 and financial closure was done in March 2015.
- The project received $290 million as financing from the mandated lead arrangers. These were Société Générale and KeyBank National Association.
- Also, $70M in equity funding was given by Deepwater Wind’s existing owners.
- The first steel foundation jacket was installed in July 2015. Submarine cable installation began early 2016 while wind turbine installation began mid-2016.
- The wind farm generated about 300 construction jobs, most of which were sourced from Rhode Island.
- 125GWh of energy is generated every year and this is enough to serve almost 17,000 households.
- The project connected Block Island to the national power grid "for the first time."
- A "34.5kV submarine cable interconnecting the wind farm’s inter-array cable and a 34.5kV transmission cable conveys the power output to an interconnection point on Block Island. A 21.8-mile (35.1km) long bidirectional Block Island transmission system (BITS) comprising a 34.5kV alternating current (AC) submarine cable then conveys the output to the landfill in Narragansett, Rhode Island. "
4. Cove Fort Geothermal Power Plant, Utah (ENEL Cove Fort, LLC as the Developer)
- In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved the geothermal power plant that was proposed by ENEL Cove Fort LLC, a subsidiary of Enel Green Power North America, Inc. It is located in Utah.
- In April 2020, ENEL had submitted the plan for developing the 20MW binary cycle power plant with injection and production pipelines, an electrical transmission line, and a substation. It also stated that it would be necessary to drill more injection and production wells. After completion in 2013, the capacity was 25MW.
- The power plant was constructed on private land owned or leased by ENEL. Five of the production wells were located on federal land while one was on private land. Labor was sourced by ENEL.
- The construction of the plant required a total investment of about $126 million. Construction was supported by a power purchase agreement lasting for 20 years, with the agreement being reached with a company called Salt River. ENEL Green Power Group financed the project.
- ENEL completed and connected the plant to Cove Fort's power grid. It was the first geothermal power plant in Utah, and it powers more than 13,000 households. Power delivered from the facility which is built on a site that had a geothermal project is transmitted to customer service centers using an eexisting138-kV transmission line that is operated by PacifiCorp.
- The operating facility generates up to 160 GWh of power every year.
Pain Points or Challenges of Solar Farms
1. Siting and Assessment Challenges
- Proper site identification and siting for solar projects are necessary. Conducting thorough surveys makes sure that every site is thoroughly investigated by the developer before construction starts.
- For example, utility-scale solar farms cover more than two acres and may even exceed thousands of acres.
- This means that sensitive species are likely to be present on the land.
- Evaluation and analysis of the possible environmental impacts plus those posed to wildlife and habitats is a requirement.
- Developers need to hire experienced, professional, and licensed biological and geological surveyors on the sites.
- This makes sure that site boundaries are considered and ground disturbance is minimized.
- Avoidance measures that should be taken include the creation of buffer areas or the relocation of sensitive species. In some situations, construction can even be halted. The presence of sensitive species can slow down progress.
- The Colorado River Indian Tribes in the Mojave Desert protested the development of utility-scale solar facilities.
- They argued that these facilities would disturb their archaeological sites and impact biodiversity negatively.
- They also claimed that they were not consulted adequately by the developers as required by national law.
- This challenge can be solved by ensuring that there are expert and qualified geologists and biologists present throughout the construction process. They can recommend activities for the protection of sensitive species.
2. The Infrastructural Challenges Associated with the Proximities of Solar Farms
- Apart from the reliability intermittency, and land-related pain points that come with setting up a solar farm, solar power developers also need to consider the transportation and infrastructural challenges in the business.
- Since solar farms take up a lot of space for the generation of electricity that is capable of meeting growing demands, they are located in remote regions which are far from where the energy is consumed.
- Eventually, the developers need to deal with the expensive infrastructures and heavy transmission lines that are required for transmitting electricity from the power generating plants to consumers in rural or urban areas.
- When establishing a large-scale solar farm, improving the proximity of the sources on commercial or industrial levels is challenging.
- Since the modern economy is highly reliant on the infrastructure and equipment that use large amounts of electricity, solar farm developers need to adopt strategies that optimize on land efficiency and capitalize on more productive ways for transporting electricity over long distances to run a profitable business.
Pain Points or Challenges of Wind Farms
1. Regulation and Approval
- For offshore wind projects, the BOEM is responsible for the management of energy development.
- For example, it slowed the wind permitting process for Avangrid's proposal to build the Vineyard Wind I offshore energy project in 2019.
- Being the first major offshore wind project in the U.S., Vineyard Wind I was denied the permit for running a transmission cable on the ocean floor.
- This was done after the decision that the environmental analysis of the project needed to be expanded into a broader analysis of the potential effects of offshore projects.
- There is an ongoing debate surrounding the various approaches and science behind the potential environmental and fishery impacts of wind projects.
- The U.S. Coast Guard is also doing a study about fishing issues. Specifically, this is about how wind projects are located within shipping lanes and safe operating distances for the vessels traveling next to the turbine towers.
- Boating and fishing interests have shown opposition towards offshore projects, and this opposition is likely to grow as the size of new wind projects increases.
- Until July 2020, the DI had not published a scope or timetable, and this creates a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future approval process.
- Developers such as Avangrid continue to face delays on their projects and this is affecting the overall productivity of wind energy.
- A possible solution to this challenge is the release of a study that addresses the broader effects of wind farms and projects on industries.
- This will mark the beginning of the process that aims to solve these problems, satisfying the concerns that stakeholders have.
2. Insufficient Resources
- There is a lot of confusion about the labor, skills, and training that is required for offshore wind production.
- Developers and industry leaders are still confused about where to access training and credible information surrounding wind energy projects.
- The workforce development system is also daunting and requires a lot of improvement.
- The supply chain for wind projects in the U.S. is still being developed.
- At the moment, the dependency on more experienced international players is very high.
- This means that developers have to rely on multinational companies for important factors such as engineering, which derails the progress.
- Even though jobs are being created, companies are being started locally, and a lot of information is available from large corporations with international operations, a national supply chain should be created. This will ensure that resources are available at the needed time and location.