Fairmont Wind Turbine Project
by Andy Raun
FAIRMONT — Perennial Public Power District is partnering with an Omaha company to secure its own exclusive supply of renewable wholesale electricity through a small wind farm to be built west of here.
Representatives of the Perennial district, which is based in York and serves York and Fillmore counties, joined leaders from Bluestem Energy Solutions Friday morning at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Fillmore County Wind Farm west of Fairmont. The turbines will be built along U.S. Highway 6.
Development, permitting and construction activities for the project began more than a year ago. In a joint news release issued Thursday in advance of Friday’s ceremony, Perennial and Bluestem said the wind farm may be operational in the first quarter of 2018.
The three wind turbines being built — each 297 feet tall and with 192-foot long blades, according to a project fact sheet — will produce 6.9 megawatts of electricity and will be connected to Perennial’s distribution system. Each turbine site, which includes access roads, will occupy about one acre of farmland.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, 1 megawatt of wind power can meet the power needs of about 300 households for a year.
The wind farm is expected to contribute more than $4 million to the local economy through construction opportunities for local businesses plus property tax revenue, payments to landowners, and spending on operations and maintenance.
Perennial will purchase all of the electricity Bluestem generates under a long-term contract with prices already established.
In the news release, Perennial and Bluestem say the arrangement is unusual for a rural public power district, which does not generate its own electricity but purchases it wholesale from an agency like the Nebraska Public Power District.
Historically, a district like Perennial could economically gain access to low-carbon power only through a remote renewable energy project, with the power delivered via the transmission system.
“That was until Perennial changed the playbook for distribution utilities through a model such as this one,” the partnering entities said. “This project is a product of local, conservative leadership and thinking. Known price, known regulations, known risk, known off taker, all under Perennial’s control.”
Jamey Pankoke, general manager of the Perennial district, said having a portion of its power supply locked up through Bluestem is welcome, given all the uncertainty that exists in the power industry today.
“As compared to the uncertainty of the price of the firm wholesale power that we purchase from Nebraska Public Power District over the next 15-20 years, particular(ly) as NPPD and other power generation companies deal with the potential of environmental regulations, we know exactly the price that we will pay every year for energy from Bluestem through the life of the contract,” Pankoke said. “Price certainty will help us in setting financial forecasts and rates.”
Being able to purchase electricity from low-carbon generation sources continues to be of interest to commercial retail customers, the news release said. The Fillmore County Wind Farm project gives Perennial a way to meet that demand without going out on a limb.
“The public-private relationship between Perennial and Bluestem allows Perennial to make transformative decisions without taking on debt or long-term financial risk,” the partners said.
Bluestem is the company that worked recently with Central Community College and Hastings Utilities to install a single wind turbine at the college.