This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wind farm excursion

This afternoon I enjoyed one of the early SJC Homecoming events, a trip to Brookston to visit a bit of the Waugh farm and one of the wind turbines on the farm.

People who read this blog may know that Juanita Waugh passed away several years ago and left Saint Joseph's College a large amount of land in White County. (See here.) The Waugh holdings were put together over many years, starting with her grandfather and total 7634 acres, about 12 square miles. About 6800 of that is cropland that is cash rented to a single family who have farmed the land for many years. Below you see a map of part of White County with Chalmers and Brookston on the right and I-65 running diagonally through the middle with the Waugh holdings in red.
The excursion was on two SJC vans with about 50 alums and others along for the adventure. The first stop was just south of Chalmers, in a large building with no signage telling what it is. It is the building from which the maintenance crew operate to keep the windmills in operating order.
The building has a rather strange floor plan, with four different pods. It was designed that way because in the construction of the wind farm, the builders used four different brands of wind turbines and each pod houses the people who work on one of those four brands. During construction there was a high demand for wind turbines and the company building it had to take the best deals that it could get. Having four different brands of wind turbines is not an ideal situation; from a maintenance point of view, it would be easier if everything was standardized.

The total cost of this wind farm, by the way, was about a billion dollars. It has a potential capacity of about 500 megawatts, but its average operating capacity is about 30% of that, or about 150 megawatts.

After a long question and answer session, it was time to load up the vans and go see a wind mill. We drove a bit west and south to the big red area in the middle of the map above and pulled up and parked by windmill number 68. (It may look like only one van made the trip, but there were two. The second is hiding behind the first.)
We were in the middle of a large soybean field that was being harvested. The access roads to get to the windmills are also used by the farmers, but they are private roads and the public is not supposed to drive on them. They are also level with the fields so that farm equipment can easily cross over them. The Waugh land produces about 600,000 bushels of corn and 200,000 bushels of soybeans annually, though this year the corn yield will be about half of that and the soybean yield 70% or 75% of that. The corn I saw looked very short.
You can see a power line going through the property. Unused capacity on that line was one of the reasons for siting the wind farm here. Other reasons were that this area has the best wind in Indiana, it is close to markets, and there is public acceptance. It is quite possible that this facility of about 300 turbines will be expanded in the future.

The Waugh Farms has 32 turbines on its land, giving SJC a substantial amount of lease money annually. One of the concerns of the farm manager and many of the farmers who have leased land to the wind farms is what will happen when the windmills are retired. The turbines have an expected life of about 25 years. It is possible that new turbines may replace the old ones at that time, though no one can really predict what will happen that far out. There is a tremendous block of concrete extending deep into the ground under each of the towers, which are 80 meters tall. The contract with the farmers says that the company will remove concrete as deep as four feet when the windmills are no longer in use, but that assumes that the companies will still be viable at that time.
We did not get to go inside and look up.

If you stand at the base and look up, this is what you see:

It is a lot more impressive when you are actually there. The windmills do make a whooshing sound at certain speeds and the loudness varies a lot depending where you are. I thought it was louder a bit in front of the turbine than it was directly below it.

On the way back the farm manager rode in the van I was in (he had been in the other van on the way out) and answered questions. He had some interesting things to say about Juanita Waugh. She originally offered the property to another college, but they would not agree to her stipulation that the land never be sold or developed. (The map shows property at the SR 18 and I-65 interchange--no gas stations or fast food restaurants will be built there.) She had met Fr Banet and liked him, and she was very impressed with one of the White County bankers, who was an alumnus of SJC. That prompted the idea of leaving the land to SJC, which was smart enough to agree to her conditions. If SJC ever tries to sell the land, it will revert to the Mayo Foundation.

Ms Waugh lived in a house in Brookston that had been build by her grandfather and had been the family home for a century. She decided that she did not want anyone else to live in the house after she died, so her orders were to tear it down after her death. Her orders were carried out and the land was given to Brookston as a park, though no funds came with the land to develop the park.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Assuming 150 MWhr on average and with a price of 7 cents per kWhr, the numbers add up to 10.9 years to make the 1 billion dollar investment pay back. Okay, that's considering the time cost of money at zero and that no maintenance is required nor are any lease payments made. On the other hand, the calculation also does not factor in the 30% federal tax credit that was likely applied for and granted.

How did this investment win financial backing?

At 10 cents per kWhr, payback would be 7.6 years with the assumptions previously stated.