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As one of the largest wind energy companies in the world, Horizon Wind Energy had installed more than 2,500 megawatts (MW) by the end of 2010. The company is based out of Houston, Texas, and it has wind farms in 18 states, including California, Texas and New York. Each wind farm the company constructs follows the same step by step process.
The first and most important consideration when choosing a site is that the location produces a steady stream of wind, and is also feasible for construction. Other factors that determine the site suitability include availability of transmission lines and a willing community.
“The landowner relationship is the most important aspect of it,” says Vanessa Kellogg, Horizon Wind Energy’s director of project development for the Southwest region. “We are out in the field working with the landowners. We also do a lot of education and outreach to explain the purpose of the wind turbines, how they work and the impacts on the land.”
The landowners that enter into long-lease agreements with the company receive monetary benefits from the very beginning, because Horizon Wind Energy pays landowners for access to their land so the company can put up meteorological towers and do field research. Once the wind farms are generating power, the landowner receives payment based off of the wind energy output. For farmers, the wind turbines can provide supplementary income, and they can continue farming without much interference from the turbines. This extra income can be especially convenient in times of drought or flood.
For towns that are struggling, wind farms can also provide an economic boost to the area. It brings in new people and sometimes starts up new enterprises. In the case of the Meridian Way wind farm located in Cloud County, Kan., a wind energy education program developed at Cloud County Community College.
“One thing we’ve seen in young people in school right now, they don’t really seem that inclined to come back and work the farm. What this is doing is giving them something else to come back to,” Kellogg says.
Investing in alternative energy sources is initially costly. On average, Horizon Wind Energy spends $150 million to $200 million on a 100 MW wind farm. This includes all of the land lease payments, road building and wind farm construction. Because the majority of the wind turbines that Horizon Wind Energy purchases are from Vestas, a company out of Denmark, they also have to pay for special trucks to transport the turbines and have to reinforce roads to carry the weight of the turbines.
The Meridian Way wind farm cost $340 million to construct, which is average for a wind farm of its size. The size of the wind turbines is not average, though; they’re unusually large at 3 MW. The majority of Horizon Wind Energy’s turbines range from 1.5 MW to 2.3 MW.
“The 3 MW is actually fairly new,” Kellogg says. “The Meridian Way farm is the only Horizon wind farm that uses 3 MW turbines.”
The 3 MW turbines were chosen for the Meridian Way site because they best suited that site. The type of turbine used at a specific wind farm depends on wind conditions and the terrain. Fitting the right turbine to the correct terrain affects efficiency.
On average in a year, wind turbines are at their full capacity 30 to 40 percent of the time. However, the rest of the time, they are still producing energy, just not at their optimal potential.
Wind energy is a cleaner option than fossil fuel sources of electricity because it doesn’t produce pollution, emit CO2 or require water, and it has minimal impact on farm land. However, it still affects the environment. During the development process, Horizon Wind Energy works with The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups to ensure their potential wind farm has minimal environmental impact.
“First we just want to lead by example,” Kellogg says. “We want to be known as a company that you would want to do business with.”
Above: Blue Canyon Wind Farm is one of Horizon Wind Energy's 26 wind farms in operation throughout the United States. Photo courtesy of Horizon Wind Energy.