Wessington Springs wind tower project lights the way to new turbine tech

October 2, 2019

Longer blades, updated gear boxes increase efficiency with lower wind speeds

By Kristi Hine, True Dakotan

Construction activity is beginning to surge at a Jerauld County wind farm located south of Wessington Springs.

“Wessington Springs Wind,” a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, is a repowering project with construction slated to begin this month.

The site, which began commercial operation in February 2009, currently consists of 34 General Electric (GE) 1.5 MW turbines with 77-meter blades. Each wind turbine is 262 feet tall from the ground to the center of the blade hub.

The GE turbines are capable of generating enough electricity to power more than 12,700 homes, create no air or water pollution, use no water in power generation and allow land to remain in agricultural use.

NextEra Energy Resources will be working to upgrade the performance of the turbines by installing longer, 91-meter blades. According to the company, the longer blades can capture more wind energy to convert it to electric energy, making the turbines more efficient and improving their performance.

“This repower provides an upgrade to newer, more efficient turbine technology, extending the benefits of the project to the community and to landowners for a longer period,” said Jeffrey Bryce, NextEra Energy Resources Associate Project Manager. “The repower will allow the site to operate at peak efficiency with lower wind speeds. The increased efficiency reduces the cost of generating clean, renewable energy and extends the operations of the site for the foreseeable future.”

Through a long-term purchase power agreement with NextEra Energy Resources, Heartland Consumers Power District, the provider of wholesale electric energy to 30 municipalities including Wessington Springs, purchases the full output of the turbines at Wessington Springs Wind.

Nate Jones, Heartland’s Chief Operations Officer, said that Heartland maintains a diverse power supply portfolio, including the output from the wind farm in Wessington Springs to serve their customer base.

“All the resources we have, we use for our customer base,” said Jones, when speaking about the Wessington Springs Wind output contract. “This is part of the energy mix that provides enough resources to service all our customers.”

Jones said that the repower project puts in place the newest and best equipment to produce more wind energy. 

When it comes to the flow of energy, Heartland picks up the wind farm output at the high voltage power line. From there, the energy becomes part of the larger mix of energy Heartland uses to provide power to all of its customers, including Wessington Springs.  

“It’s hard to describe energy flow,” Jones explains. “Electrons, or energy produced, goes out on the bulk grid and get used up. Our Wessington Springs Wind contract gives us the right to the energy produced there.” 

The repowering project will create construction job opportunities and bring approximately 100-150 crew members to the area for this project. NextEra Energy Resources said that the company aims to hire locally, whenever possible. 

Heartland says that in addition to efficiencies, this project will also financially help their customers.

Heartland will receive a lower wind energy rate due to increased efficiencies from more wind power produced and reduced maintenance costs,” said Heartland Chief Financial Officer Mike Malone. “Heartland’s customers, in turn, will experience wholesale rate stability as a result.”

With this project scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, Bryce said that additional repower projects will not be needed in the future. He explained that this repower will not only increase the efficiency and performance of the site, but also include state-of-the-art monitoring systems that will allow NextEra to predict required maintenance and prevent unscheduled outages.

“Wessington Springs Wind will continue to bring clean, reliable energy to Jerauld County for many years to come.”