Williams County’s latest wind farm will use the largest wind turbines available in the United States.
The Aurora Wind Farm, located just a mile away from the Lindahl Wind Farm near Tioga, is the latest in a line of nine other wind energy projects either seeking permits or under construction. Together they will add another 2,435 MW to North Dakota’s already impressive energy portfolio.
By itself, Aurora will produce 299 MW, and will be built across both Williams and Mountrail counties.
To produce all that power, the project will actually be using two types of turbines. The larger turbine will stand 181 meters from ground to the tip-top blade, and will produce 4.8 MW. The rotor diameter of the wind turbine is 149 meters — that’s 39 meters longer than Lindahl.
“This is a trend that’s occurring throughout the industry,” said Spencer Almen, business development manager for Enel Green Power. “Advances in turbine design and materials has allowed turbine manufacturers to produce bigger, more powerful turbines that create more electricity and lower the cost.”
These advances are lowering breakevens for wind farms, making them more and more economical.
“In many parts of the country, especially in windy regions like northwestern North Dakota, wind energy is the cheapest form of new capacity you can build right now,” Almen said. “That is before considering the production tax credit.”
The federal credit was available in full for projects started by 2016, and is gradually phased out thereafter. This year marks the last year for 40 percent of the credit.
The Aurora Wind Farm, while breaking ground this year, was actually begun in 2016 due to the purchase of its turbines in that year. It will be receiving 100 percent of the original tax credit.
It will take 300 people to construct the Aurora Wind Farm at peak, and will result in 12 to 15 permanent jobs once complete.
How many of those jobs will be local hires is unknown. The construction is being handled by a contractor, Almen said, and those decisions will be made by them.
“We do absolutely encourage our contractors to work with local construction workers and trades people,” he said. “We typically help them coordinate a local job fair for that to help out with construction.”
A report by the Laborer’s Union International of North America says that North Dakota is losing millions in economic impact, because a majority of wind energy projects are getting built with out-of-state workers. They have called for greater transparency in the amount of local hiring by wind energy projects.
"There are quite a few (wind energy jobs) that are excellent pay and that don’t take much time to get trained up to do the work,” Lucas Franco, author of the wind labor study, said. “So there is a huge potential for local workers in low-paying retail and food service jobs to find good jobs in the wind industry.”
Aurora will be the third largest project underway for Enel right now. The two larger projects are in Texas and will each produce around 500 MW of power when fully complete.
Enel also has smaller projects going in Alberta, Canada, Illinois and Missouri.
Aurora will generate enough power for about 100,000 homes, Almen said.
The power has already been purchased, however, and won’t necessarily be for homes.
Basin Electric has purchased 142 MW of the power, which adds to the 150 MW the electric cooperative purchases from the Lindahl Wind Project, which is about 1 mile away and also belongs to Enel.
“We look forward to this project getting underway in the Williston Basin,” said Basin Electric’s CEO and General Manager Paul Sukut. “This additional resource will help us serve our members’ increasing load in that area.”
The rest of the power, 90 MW, was purchased by the GAP clothing store for 1500 stores. That represents about half of the company’s electrical needs worldwide.
Gap has announced a goal of reducing its Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2020.
North Dakota has become a leader in the wind industry, and has the top third or fourth resource in the nation.
“I’m not sure of the ranking exactly,” he said. “but they are close to the top.”
Whether that will mean more Enel wind energy projects in the state is uncertain, however.
“There is certainly good potential for more projects,” Allmen said. “We are not anywhere near starting construction on anything, but we have talked with some other landowners around the state to engage interest to see if it would make sense to build another one.”
Whether that will actually lead to another windfarm depends on several factors, including whether there is a buyer for the power and a way for the power to tie into the grid.