In 2011, Iberdrola Renewables announced plans to develop a huge wind farm in North Carolina. Nearly five years later, the Desert Winds wind farm is about to become a reality.
Based on recent news reports, construction for the Desert Winds wind farm project should begin next month and be online sometime in 2016. The 102-turbine project is slated to generate as much electricity as the equivalent of 61,000 homes. Amazon, the online retail giant, will purchase the power to run its “future and current” data centers. The Desert Winds wind farm project will be renamed “Amazon Wind Farm US East.” This is Amazon’s second big wind power purchase this year, with its first announcement coming from the “Amazon Web Services Wind Farm” in Indiana (formerly the Fowler Ridge wind farm project).
Major clean tech companies are rapidly snapping up renewable energy contracts to fulfill self-mandated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goals. In 2013, Apple announced plans for a new data center in North Carolina and corresponding solar power farms, also in North Carolina. In October last year, Yahoo! signed a long-term power purchase agreement with OwnEnergy to offset much of Yahoo’s energy usage in the Great Plains region. In June, Google announced that it would refurbish an old retired coal-fired power plant in northern Alabama with a brand new data center that will receive 100% of its electricity from renewable energy. Along with Amazon, these clean tech companies not only receive the clean energy benefits of these power purchases, they also receive the low-cost and stable, predictable prices of renewable power.
While the Amazon Wind Farm US East isn’t the first wind farm in the South (as many, many news reports incorrectly stated), it certainly is the largest. In 2004, the wind development company Invenergy constructed the Buffalo Mountain wind farm near Oliver Springs, Tennessee. The Tennessee Valley Authority has purchased power from the Buffalo Mountain wind farm for over a decade. The Buffalo Mountain wind farm is made up of 13 wind turbines with a total capacity of 27 megawatts. Meanwhile, the new Amazon Wind Farm US East will contain 102 wind turbines with a total capacity of 208 megawatts, with an option to add another 50 turbines (100 megawatts).
The Amazon Wind Farm US East is located near Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and will be located predominately throughout agricultural land. Farmers voluntarily agreed to wind turbine placements on their property and will be paid leases and will likely only lose 1-2 acres of farmland per wind turbine. After 20-25 years (the typical life of a wind farm), it is likely that the turbine bases can either be refurbished to host a new generation of wind turbines, or reclaimed as farmland.
While siting a wind farm near the coast increases the likelihood of being struck by a hurricane, the risk of destruction from a hurricane appears to be fairly slim. The last time northeast North Carolina was struck by a hurricane was in 2011 with Hurricane Irene; however, wind turbines are frequently rated to survive a Category 3 hurricane and Hurricane Irene was just a Category 1 storm. All the wind farms in the northeast United States that were subsequently struck by Hurricane Irene operated as designed and no turbines were damaged.
But having a wind farm situated near the coast does have its benefits. A natural phenomenon in the coastal zone called the “Sea Breeze Effect” ensures wind power production in the late summertime afternoons – when utility power demand tends to be very high. The Sea Breeze Effect is why beach-goers will frequently experience a rushing wind in late summertime afternoons. The Amazon Wind Farm US East annual energy output is expected to be 670,000 megawatt hours; for a 208 megawatt wind farm, that roughly equates to a 37% annual capacity factor. Just a few years ago, such a high capacity factor would have seemed unreachable; but with new turbine technology, wind farm capacity factors are expected to continue to increase. The newly released National Renewable Energy Laboratory WIND Toolkit corroborates the estimated capacity factors of the Amazon Wind Farm US East.
With better turbine technology, more wind farms will be developed throughout the south. As more wind farms are developed throughout the South, public acceptance will increase. Public polling suggests that states with more wind farms boast more public support for wind energy. When people see the positive effects of wind power in their community, and can easily dismiss some of the nonsense spread by anti-wind activists, it’s obvious that the benefits of wind power outweigh many perceived problems. When more wind farms are installed, it becomes easier to install additional wind farms.
Until then, stable wind power policy is essential to ensure additional wind power development. Click here to contact your Senators and urge them to support policies that support wind power in the south!