Basin Electric Power Cooperative's US$363M, 162-MW Crow Lake wind farm near Chamberlain, South Dakota, now operational

BISMARCK, North Dakota , March 8, 2011 (press release) – It’s an industry trifecta. The Crow Lake Wind Project, built by Basin Electric subsidiary PrairieWinds SD 1, Inc., is complete and operational with three significant achievements to boast. It’s the largest wind project owned solely by a cooperative, it’s got a first-of-its-kind community wind investment partnership, and it’s being used to educate future wind technicians.

According to Ron Rebenitsch, Basin Electric manager of alternative technologies, the last turbine of the $363-million wind project just east of Chamberlain, S.D., was commissioned Feb. 27 and the entire project is now fully operational.

With 150 megawatts of the project’s 162 megawatts owned by Basin Electric subsidiary, PrairieWinds SD1, Inc., the Crow Lake project has taken over the title of being the largest wind project in the United States owned solely by a cooperative. The title was most recently held by the PrairieWinds 1 projects near Minot, ND, built by Basin Electric subsidiary PrairieWinds ND 1, Inc. PrairieWinds 1 first took the title in late December 2009, when the 77-turbine project began operation.

Construction on the Crow Lake project began Oct. 5, 2010. Crews from contractors Wanzek and General Electric (GE) worked around the clock for nearly five months to complete it. “It’s really amazing what Wanzek was able to accomplish in an incredibly short period of time, and finish the last towers in the middle of winter no less,” Rebenitsch says.

GE began commissioning the turbines shortly after construction started, and turbines were tied in, tested and cleared as they were built. The last turbine was topped out Feb. 9, 2011, and in the remaining weeks of February, the final turbines were commissioned.

The entire project consists of 108 GE 1.5-megawatt turbines – 100 will be owned and operated by PrairieWinds SD 1, Inc., one turbine has been sold to the Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI), Mitchell, S.D., and the remaining seven are owned by a group of local community investors called the South Dakota Wind Partners. PrairieWinds constructed the seven turbines for the Wind Partners and will operate them. Through PrairieWinds, Basin Electric will purchase the 10.5 megawatts of electricity produced from those turbines.

The Wind Partners investment is a first-of-its-kind partnership for wind development. The opportunity became viable following passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009. The act created a new tax grant option allowing small investors to access government incentives and tax benefits making public wind ownership possible.

Basin Electric Class A member East River Electric Power Cooperative, the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation, South Dakota Farmers Union and the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council created the Wind Partners for that purpose.

"This development model created opportunity for small local investors to have direct local ownership in wind energy and access the tax benefits previously reserved for large equity investors. It offers a model for others to participate in community-based wind projects,” says Jeff Nelson, East River Electric general manager.
The third crowning achievement of the project is its direct connection to training future wind technicians. The turbine sold to MTI will be used as part of the school’s Wind Turbine Technology program, which launched in 2009.

Through a grant, stimulus bonds, GE support and the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development, MTI purchased the turbine. The school will sell the turbine’s output to Basin Electric. The revenue will help cover maintenance costs and loan payments.

“This wind project is certainly unique,” says Wayne Backman, Basin Electric senior vice president of Generation. “With the Wind Partners and MTI and all involved, it’s a great accomplishment and we appreciate the help of the local cooperatives in making it possible.”

Though the Crow Lake project is operational, work at the site will continue into summer. Reclamation and clean-up will complete the project, Rebenitsch says. Roads and disturbed land will be repaired or reclaimed and re-seeded. This will take several months, depending on weather conditions. According to Rebenitsch, from beginning to operation, the project had its unique challenges, but the achievements speak for themselves – it’s the largest, it’s first-of-a-kind, and it’s educating the next generation. “That’s a winning combination.”

In 2001, Basin Electric developed its first wind project – two turbines north of Chamberlain, S.D., followed by another two turbines south of Minot, N.D. Since then Basin Electric has added wind generation totaling more than 700 megawatts of wind power in the Dakotas, including power purchases from several projects with NextEra Energy Resources.
About Basin Electric Power Cooperative

Basin Electric is a consumer-owned, regional cooperative headquartered in Bismarck, N.D. It generates and transmits electricity to 135 member rural electric systems in nine states: Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. These member systems distribute electricity to about 2.8 million consumers. For more information, go to www.basinelectric.com.

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