Green energy is coming to West Virginia in a big way. The largest wind energy project in the eastern United States is rapidly nearing completion in Tucker and Preston Counties.
Known as the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center, the project is being funded and built by the facility’s owner and operator, FPL Energy LLC, a subsidiary of FPL Group Inc. in Juno Beach, FL.
Currently, FPL is the nation’s leading developer, owner, and operator of wind energy, with 26 facilities in nine states. Besides West Virginia, facilities are located in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Oregon, Washington, California, Pennsylvania and Texas.
The Mountaineer Wind Energy Center covers about 6 mi. and 4,400 acres along the ridge of Backbone Mountain, and will include 44 wind-powered electricity-generating turbines. According to Project Manager Guy Hammond, the facility will produce approximately 66 megawatts of electricity at peak times, with each turbine having the ability to generate 1.5 megawatts.
According to FPL Energy Spokesperson Mary Wells, the company does not discuss the cost of its projects. However, she noted that the American Wind Energy Association reports that the cost of installing 1 megawatt of wind generation is approximately $1 million. That would make the cost of this particular project about $66 million. Other sources have reported estimates of $70 million or higher.
Construction began in the summer of 2002 and was expected to take about six months. More than 100 workers were on the site for the project.
Wells noted that the first step in constructing a wind farm is to build the access roads.
“Once that step is complete,” she said, “trenching equipment digs the trench for the underground cabling that connects each turbine to the transformer station or substation. Equipment is then brought in to dig or drill the foundations, and the foundations are then poured.” The foundations can reach depths of 25 ft. (7.6 m), and each contains about 250 cu. yds. (191.1 cu m) of concrete.
Once the foundations are set, the wind machinery begins to arrive.
“First, the base sections are attached to the foundations with large bolts that were installed in the foundations,” Wells explained.
“Then, the midsections are attached to the base section, and the top section of the tower goes up. The nacelle, which is the generator that sits atop the tower, goes on next. Then, the three blades are attached to the hub. Once the blades are attached to the hub, this section is called the rotor, and it is lifted with a huge crane to the top of the tower where it is attached to the nacelle. Workers who have climbed to the top of the tower are in the nacelle and are able to guide the suspended rotor into place on the nacelle and bolt it on,” she said.
The final step involves hooking up the electrical wiring and testing the tower.
“Each tower is an independent power plant with a small control room at the base of the tower,” Wells said. “Each tower can ’go online’ or be put into service individually as work and testing on it is completed.”
Although the optimum wind speed for the windmill generators is between 25 and 35 mph (40 and 56 kmh), they begin making electricity with wind speeds of 5 mph (8 kmh). Once the turbines begin to spin, they turn at a constant speed of 17 revolutions per minute. They can operate at wind speeds as high as 55 mph (88.5 kmh). However, when the speed exceeds 55 mph, the internal computer shuts the equipment down and feathers the blades (turning them perpendicular to the wind) to protect the equipment.
“Every electron the facility generates for its 25-year life is being sold to Excelon Corporation,” explained Wells.
“Their participation at that level of commitment is huge to FPL Energy. Without a customer, we would not build wind facilities. I can’t say enough about the importance of Exelon’s participation in this project. Exelon’s marketing company, Community Energy, is selling the electricity in the Washington, D.C. area.,” she added.
End users will include National Geographic, the U.S. Army and Catholic University.
The steel towers were manufactured by DMI in North Dakota and shipped in three sections by Badger Trucking of North Dakota. Upon completion, they stand 228-ft. (69.5 m) tall and are 16 ft. (4.9 m) in diameter at the base. Each stands on a 1,600-sq.-ft. (148.6 sq m) piece of land.
Each turbine has three fiberglass blades that are 114.8 ft. (35 m) long. They were manufactured in North Dakota by LM Glasfiber Inc. for NEG Micon USA. The blades were transported by Lone Star Trucking, ND.
Over a period of 45 days, 300 large loads of wind turbine parts were delivered to the site. The trucking companies worked closely with authorities in each state through which they traveled to receive the required permits, and each state dictated the routes for them to follow. Some sections required a police escort.