United States

United States

Utility plays safe on turbine choice

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The largest wind-only green pricing programme in America has decided against using 750 kW Zond turbines because they are not as "commercially proven" as other models. The project is likely instead to use German Nordex machines for the 10 MW plant. The eleventh hour decision to change the turbine supplier for the first two phases of the Ponnequin Wind Facility in Colorado was made in early September, confirms Steve Dayney, a senior official with the Public Service Co (PSCo) utility of Denver. It is PSCo's WindSource green pricing programme that will buy the wind power.

Dayney also says the decision to be conservative was made in part because the utility had been hurt financially by involvement in the Foote Creek wind plant in Wyoming, a project delayed by the bankruptcy of Kenetech Windpower, the original developer. Although PSCo bailed out of Foote Creek before the bankruptcy, it had still spent $1 million without seeing one wind turbine installed.

"For our first [wind] project, we wanted to take a conservative approach," says Dayney, the utility's manager for business expansion and development. "We wanted to choose a turbine that has operated for a long timeÉ Zond's is not as commercially proven." Dayney also says that despite PSCo's change of heart, Zond machines could be used in a future phase of the wind farm once they are proven. As of September 25, negotiations for buying turbines for the first phase were still under way with Nordex Balcke-Dürr GmbH, but not yet finalised, he said. Nordex wind turbines are produced in Denmark for the German company.

The likely choice of foreign technology for the first 10 MW of the Ponnequin plant poses one problem in particular. The state, through the governor's Office of Energy Conservation, has been seeking a $3 million grant for the project from the US Department of Energy (DOE) in order to keep the price of the wind produced electricity affordable for customers signing up for its WindSource programme. The money would come from the DOE's commercialisation ventures programme -- but the DOE usually requires that US technology be used.

"Yes, that is going to be a problem," confirms Marc Roper, renewable energy manager for the Office of Energy Conservation. "That's one of the details the DOE is working onÉ" He says that one solution to retaining the funding might be to apply it to later phases of the project, when US technology is used. He also says the funding was still expected to come through this autumn.

It was not clear why the decision to use Nordex turbines had only been made recently. Zond turbines had been a definite enough choice to have appeared in a PSCo fact sheet about the WindSource green pricing programme distributed at least six months ago. Dayney downplays the decision, saying the utility has not really changed its mind because the Zond choice had never been definite.

The wind farm is still to be developed for PSCo by Distributed Generation Systems Inc (DisGen), a Colorado firm founded by Dale Osborn, a president of US Windpower before its name change to Kenetech Windpower. A procurement contract between DisGen and Nordex was expected to be signed by around the end of September, according to PSCo's Dayney. Construction had already started on the first phase, of 5 MW, and the first turbine was expected to be spinning by December 1. The second phase is currently planned to be 5 MW, but it could be larger if there is enough demand for the "green" output from Colorado consumers.

Customers, whether residential or commercial, can sign up for "blocks" of power from what will be the state's first wind farm for a month at a time. Wind will not be generated until January 1998 from the plant, on a cattle ranch in Weld County near the Wyoming border. Customers are already being urged to sign up, although they will not pay until the wind farm is on-line. So far, 3700 have joined the scheme, up from 3000 about a month ago, says the utility. One of those is the mansion of Colorado Governor, Roy Romer (Windpower Monthly, September 1997).

Furthermore, a series of corporate "champions" of the scheme also include Coors Brewing Co, the cities of Denver and Boulder, IBM, CF&I Steel, and US West. The price offered to residential customers is low, $2.50 monthly for every 100 kWh block bought. Business customers will be charged $25 monthly for every MWh block. Residences must commit for one year and businesses for three years.

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