Budget-minded university harvests the wind for savings
By Larry Dreiling
You don’t need a chart from the National Weather Service or a data map from the U.S. Geological Survey to tell you one thing about the High Plains.
Out here, the wind blows.
In fact, the wind around these parts blows most of the time.
Because of that, utilities have installed wind farms to bring supplemental power to their customers.
It’s a rarity, however, for public institutions to develop wind energy systems.
One such institution is Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kan. Confronted with state budget reductions cutting into higher education spending, FHSU has installed two wind turbines to offset the budget cuts while retaining other programs.
The reduction in the university’s carbon footprint and the opportunities for educational programs are added benefits, said Edward Hammond, Ph.D., FHSU president.
“This project brings us savings that will be close to the figure the Legislature has cut us. A substantial amount of the budget reduction will be offset by the savings we should get by using wind power generation.”
Initially, Hammond was projecting annual savings on FHSU’s energy bill of at least $600,000. With energy rates rising, that figure is climbing to about $1 million, or close to the slightly over $845,000 deducted from FHSU’s state appropriation over the next two fiscal years.
During a news conference last December announcing the project, Hammond read a statement from Gov. Sam Brownback, R-KS, expressing enthusiasm for the project.
“Fort Hays State University is paving the way for the future of Kansans,” Brownback said. “This project will give students a new avenue in education and help grow our state’s economy by adding local Kansas jobs.”
The university’s effort to harvest electricity from the Kansas wind had seen some uncertainties, but the outcome was never in doubt.
“We have been working on this project for six years, from the first discussions through several twists and turns, but we never gave up because we knew it was the right thing to do,” Hammond said, adding that the final cost of the project was estimated at $8.8 million to $9 million.
“That was a turnkey estimate,” he said. “It includes everything necessary to deliver electricity from the turbines to the campus.”
FHSU signed an assignment agreement with Harvest The Wind Network LLC, headquartered in Greensburg, Kan., conveying the rights and responsibilities of turbine ownership to FHSU. HTWN is a national leader in turnkey distributed wind energy solutions. Michael Estes, a vice president with HTWN, joined Hammond in signing the agreement at the December news conference.
“We congratulate FHSU on being a pioneer amongst institutions for harvesting this natural resource in our great state of Kansas,” said Haley Estes Roberto, HTWN vice president.
HTWN has 12 regional dealer groups across the U.S. that deliver distributed and community wind energy solutions. Each dealer group has dedicated wind specialists and technicians trained and supported by HTWN and their leading wind turbine vendor partners.
Since its startup in 2008, HTWN has supported the successful installation of more than 150 distributed wind projects totaling more than 6 megawatts, of which 2.3 megawatts is at educational facilities. Additionally, HTWN has nearly two dozen projects in advanced development, ranging from 50 kilowatts to 4 megawatts of power.
Vestas, considered the world leader in manufacturing wind turbines, produced blades, towers and nacelles at its Colorado manufacturing facilities for use at the FHSU site. With more than 50 gigawatts of installed capacity worldwide, Vestas has supplied more than 47,000 wind turbines in 71 countries since 1979.
The project includes 3.5 miles of underground transmission line from the turbines to the Akers Energy Center on campus. Also, fiber will be buried adjacent to the transmission line, allowing FHSU staff to monitor and control electricity production to meet campus needs.
PNE Corp., Longview, Wash., installed the turbines and transmission lines. Yet to be installed are transformers that will connect from the transmission line into the Akers Energy Center, where supplemental diesel generators are linked into the university grid locally and onto the grid of the local utility, Midwest Energy, Inc.
“The transformers we need will not be here until August. Plus, Vestas has to demonstrate to us the towers work to our specifications before they leave,” Hammond said. “So, I’m hoping we can have the transformers installed and the project completed before school starts (Aug. 18).”
The FHSU project is now the sixth in Kansas to use Vestas turbines since the company provided the first utility-scale turbines near Montezuma in 2002. FHSU will be the 12th educational institution in the U.S. to install Vestas turbines.
“We are thrilled to deliver more clean and reliable energy to Kansas,” Chris Brown, president of Vestas’ sales and service division in the United States and Canada, said in a statement. “We are supplying one of our newest models, called the V100-2.0 MW VCSS, that uses our latest technology and will be the first ones installed in North America. This turbine builds on our proven 2 megawatt platform with more than 9,800 installed worldwide.” Vestas has more than 47,000 units installed globally.
The turbines, each about 400 feet high at the tip of the blade, will be located on land leased from a private citizen, Brian Staab. It was necessary to place the turbines outside the three-mile limit of the city of Hays due to an ordinance that prohibits turbines of this height.
The location is about a half-mile west and a little north of FHSU’s Super Dual Auroral Radar Network southwest of Hays at Golf Course Road and 210th Avenue. The turbines will be visible from campus but relatively small on the horizon.
Also, the wind project represents a significant step in FHSU’s efforts toward sustainability, in this case by producing and using “green” energy. FHSU also is exploring ways that excess electricity might be used to power other green energy development.
“We especially appreciate the unanimous support we received from the Ellis County Commission and the positive recommendation from the Ellis County Joint Planning Commission,” Hammond said. “We started discussing this project six years ago and worked through different possibilities. Our consultant, WECC LLC, was very helpful as we moved through the various stages. We also appreciate the great cooperation we received from the other partners in this project.”
“We are honored to be involved in this project, and in particular to be part of Dr. Hammond’s vision of using clean energy in the university’s micro grid,” said Mike Steinke, executive managing partner of WECC LLC, Enid, Okla. “The entire FHSU team not only bought into this vision, but so has the community. Throughout our involvement with this project, we remain in awe of the strong commitment within all levels of the FHSU institution and with the political and operational leadership within Ellis County government.
“FHSU is a pacesetter and clearly has set the bar very high regarding how distributed energy projects are brought to reality. Through my discussions with political and institutional leadership throughout Kansas, it’s clear that FHSU and this project are being watched closely and will serve as a model for other government entities and institutions. As we enter the final phase of this project, we look forward to remaining an integral part of this very special team.”
Additional benefits are expected. Hammond said an education program related to renewable energy is in the planning stages.
“There has always been an education component to this,” Hammond said. “We’ve discussed this with a couple of the community colleges that are doing classes with wind energy and I think we think that by the end of this coming academic year we will be able to announce a program in this area.”
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at email@example.com.