Anti-wind activists have been barnstorming around the country, making life more difficult for wind developers. Still, they can’t stop the wind. Wind industry stakeholders have plenty of opportunities to keep the industry humming along, and that includes repowering older wind farms with new turbines.
Repowering An Old Wind Farm With Bigger, Better Turbines…
In 2021, the Energy Department took stock of the wind farm repowering field and noted that “repowering sets the stage for future wind industry investments and helps maximize wind energy use in the coming energy transition.”
Repowering a wind farm often involves retrofitting existing turbine towers with new turbines. CleanTechnica took note of one such project back in 2019, when a developer announced plans to update a 1990s-era wind farm in Wyoming with more powerful turbines. The upgrade was aimed at increasing output by 60% overall, while slashing the number of turbines down to 13 from an original total of 68. Fewer turbines translates into fewer towers and associated equipment to inspect and maintain, helping to pare costs down to the bone.
Another project of note is the Vineyard Wind offshore wind farm in Massachusetts. The Trump administration tried to pull the plug on the project. However, they only caused a delay, during which the developers ditched the original turbines and took advantage of GE’s new, more powerful 13-megawatt Haliade-X offshore wind turbines. With the new turbines in hand, Vineyard Wind now sits at 62 turbines, down from the original plan of 84.
The Vineyard Wind project is currently chugging along at a good clip, but they may want to check in with GE again. The company bumped the Haliade-X up to 14 megawatts a while back, and it is laying plans to ship a 17-18 megawatt version later this year.
…Or Just Better Turbines
Upping the ante on wind farm capacity is just one aspect of the repowering field. Replacing older turbines with new ones that are roughly equivalent in capacity also has its advantages. Wind turbines have a lifespan of about 20 years. A new turbine retrofit could add another 20 years to an existing wind farm, without the time and expense of fighting through the permitting process from scratch.
“Repowered projects can often gain further cost-saving advantages, relative to new greenfield (or vacant-lot) developments, by using existing grid connections and infrastructure,” the Energy Department also notes.
How About Some Steak With That Repowered Wind Farm?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the US renewable energy firm PivotGen, aka Pivot Power Management. Last year the company hooked up with ACEN, a unit of the Phillipene conglomerate Ayala Corp., in a repowering venture involving eight existing wind farms in Texas, all of which are named after steaks.
ACEN issued a press release on March 3 of this year to announce that the deal is moving forward with an assist from UPC Solar & Wind Investments, LLC.
There was no mention of steak in the press release, though Patrice Clausse, CEO of ACEN International, suggested that the partisan “anti-woke” political movement in the US is just so much hot air.
“We’ve long set our sights on the US as our next market following our sustained success in the Asia Pacific,” Clausse said. “We are committed to enact the accelerated green energy transition globally, and these new partnerships ensure that ACEN is well-placed to harness the vast opportunities in the US renewables space.”
CleanTechnica caught wind of the steak angle when we asked PivotGen for more details about the project. Though the upgrade will not increase the overall capacity of the eight projects, it will ensure that the eight sites continue to pump clean kilowatts into the grid, without having to deal with the ballooning grid connection bottleneck that faces new projects.
“… this deal is about ensuring the existing machines are upgraded to ensure continued operations and add newer technologies to increase efficiency and production,” PivotGen told CleanTechnica.
The eight projects are topped by the 67.2-megawatt Porterhouse wind farm in Hansford County. The Filet and Tenderloin projects in Sharman County weigh in at 10 megawatts each. Moore County is home to four other 10-megawatt wind farms, the Flat Iron, Brisket, Tri-Tip, and Ribeye. Rounding out the set is another Moore County wind farm, the 8.75 megawatt T-Bone.
The tasty new names replace the original names of the wind farms, which were somewhat less colorful, consisting only of the letters “EW” followed by a number from 4 to 11.
If you’ve never heard of a Flat Iron steak before, join the club. It’s a relatively new thing with a science background.
“The techniques to cut flat iron steaks were developed by researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida. That’s how innovative this steak is,” explain our friends over at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in the Stockyards City part of Oklahoma City.
“Before that research, this cut of meat could not be consistently butchered because of the sinew that is connected to it. Now that those beautiful researchers have paved the way, the world is free to enjoy flat iron steak,” they add.
Woke Or Not, The Repowering Tsunami Is Coming
The total number of steak-related megawatts in the Texas project is relatively small, but as Patrice Clausse hints, that could be just the tip of a very large iceberg for ACEN, PivotGen, and UPC.
Meanwhile, other firms are pursuing repowering opportunities in the aging fleet of US wind farms, and there is plenty to pick from. Last week, the global wind consulting and communications firm Tamarindo assembled a report that came up with the figure of $25 billion per year in wind farm repowering opportunities in the US.
Some of those opportunities are not eye-catching in terms of size, but they do illustrate how repowering projects can work around community opposition. In Delaware, for example, the Manchester Press reports that the Elk Wind Farm in Elk Township is getting a makeover from the firm Greenbacker Renewable Energy. The wind farm involves 17 turbines and 21 different landowners. Work is set to begin this summer and Greenbacker plans to upgrade the turbines only on properties where the landowner is willing. If any decide not to take part, their turbines still have some lifespan left and will remain in operation for the time being.
As for the anti-wind movement, it has taken the form of a national network that may or may not represent local sentiments. When the Delaware repowering project was first proposed back in 2020, for example, a letter-to-editor appeared in the pages of the Dubuque, Iowa, Telegraph Herald, in which an Iowan exhorted other Iowans to be outraged at the “blatant corporate greed” exhibited by the developer.
“This ‘repowering’ will result in over 900,000 pounds of turbine blades being dumped into a landfill where they will slowly leech their toxic chemicals into the earth for the next 1,000 years,” the Iowan wrote of the Delaware project.
Fair enough. Back in 2019 the Des Moines Register took note of the high volume of spent turbine blades heading for landfills from repowering projects in Iowa.
However, that was then. The leading logistics firm Travero has dipped into the turbine blade recycling field through its REGEN Fiber branch, which has been piloting a new blade recycling process at a facility in Des Moines. As described by REGEN, the facility is fully mechanical and involves no process heat or chemicals.
On January 12 REGEN announced that it is building a commercial-scale recycling factory next to the Travero Logistics Park Cedar Rapids, near the Eastern Iowa Airport in Fairfax. They expect to be open for business in the second half of 2023.
At full operation, the facility will produce more than 30,000 tons of shredded blade materials annually, to be re-used mainly in applications involving asphalt and concrete.
Photo: One of eight Texas wind farms to be repowered by the US firm PivotGen (photo courtesy of PivotGen via email).
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