Pattern Energy’s 101 MW Finca de Viento Santa Isabel wind farm, located in the heart of Puerto Rico’s agricultural capital, is the Island’s first utility-scale wind farm. It is also among the first wave of renewable energy projects that are expected to help Puerto Rico transition away from its reliance on fossil fuels, such as oil.
The project, which came online in December 2012, is powered by 44 Siemens 2.3 MW wind turbines. The $200 million wind farm will help meet Puerto Rico’s 20% by 2035 renewable portfolio standard (RPS). In fact, Pattern Energy estimates the Santa Isabel wind farm will supply 7% of the 12.5% needed to meet the 2015 threshold of the RPS.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is buying 75 MW of the wind farm’s output via a long-term power purchase agreement. Pattern says that number will soon increase to 95 MW, per an allowance in the contract.
Under the contract, Pattern is receiving $0.125/kWh – as well as an additional $0.025/kWh from the sale of renewable energy credits, with an escalator of 1.5% annually.
In addition to clean energy, the project provided an economic jolt to the Island by virtue of land lease payments and the creation of more than 400 construction jobs needed to build the wind farm.
Thus far – more than a year into operations – the wind farm is performing to expectations, notes Collie Powell, Pattern Energy’s senior developer. However, as is often the case with being first developer in a region, Pattern Energy needed to work through several permitting and grid-integration challenges before achieving commercial operation.
The wind farm dates back to 2008, shortly after Pattern identified Puerto Rico as an area for future development.
“We specifically identified Puerto Rico as a location that would need to diversify its sources of energy,” Powell explains.
At 6.5 m/s, the region’s wind resource is much lower than one might find in the U.S., for example. However, given the high cost of electricity on the Island – upwards of $0.26/kWh for industrial projects – less windy projects can still be advantageous.
“We set out to determine if the wind resource was adequate, and if so, could a project of scale be built to be economically viable.”
What’s more, initial wind studies indicated that Puerto Rico contained few available areas for hosting utility-scale wind farms. The best areas to site wind turbines in Puerto Rico were along the coast, an area of prime farming and ranching operations.
Additionally, Puerto Rico’s varying topography makes laying out a wind farm challenging, Powell notes. And when an area was finally identified, Pattern worked hard to “right-size” the layout to minimally disturb farm lands.
In Puerto Rico, wind developers must obtain permission to site and build wind projects from the Department of Agriculture, and the Puerto Rico Land Authority (PRLA), a government agency, controls the region’s land parcels. In fact, even farmers and ranchers wanting to raise crops must lease land from the PRLA.
According to Powell, a considerable amount of time was spent convincing Island officials that wind energy and agricultural interests could peacefully coexist.
Powell says the Santa Isabel wind farm occupies only 21 acres, or “cuerdas” in Spanish, allowing agriculture to thrive around the project.
“The project vastly improved roads and irrigation to areas previously inaccessible, thereby increasing the net area being farmed,” he explains.
“We spaced the turbines so far apart, that we never put a turbine absolutely in prime agricultural territory,” Powell adds.
For example, he says more than 3,700 cuerdas were studied before Pattern arrived at the 21 cuerdas needed to operate the wind farm. Pattern applied for permits at 65 turbine locations – but only needed 44.
The project was careful to compensate for all impacts to agricultural production. For example, Powell explains that 350 additional cuerdas are now being farmed since the wind farm went into operations.
“Before and during Santa Isabel construction, the project reimbursed 18 of the 21 lessee farming establishments a grand total of approximately $1.3 million,” Powell says, adding that the individual compensation amounts were negotiated and mutually agreed to with each farmer and paid in order to reimburse each for all real/perceived potential impacts.
Powell says the project also offered intangible benefits to farmers and agriculture by way of new and improved access roads, with a twice-a-year road maintenance program, stronger site access protocols, and private security to minimize equipment and crop theft.
Despite the developer’s efforts, the wind farm was the subject of opposition. Pattern believes the opponents were not nearby farmers looking to cash in, but more likely, real estate developers who had earmarked the land for residential development.
“None of the 21 farmers on site opposed the project,” Powell notes, adding that all of them are still using the lands. In fact, he says, three new farmers are now using the available fields. “I think this speaks louder than anything,” explains Powell.
With construction completed, there was still the matter of connecting the wind farm to the PREPA-controlled grid. PREPA, which oversees Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, was apprehensive about adding intermittent resources, such as wind energy.
Citing reliability concerns, PREPA maintained Puerto Rico’s grid is not backstopped by any other grid. Therefore, the agency feared, an incident could wreak system-wide havoc throughout the Island.
Powell says the project has consistently worked closely with PREPA through the design, implementation and operations to establish and adhere to all technical parameters that ensure “seamless integration” into the grid.
The interconnection was successful enough for PREPA to begin contemplating the possibility of adding more renewables. In fact, only recently has the agency finalized its minimum testing requirements for wind farms. (For more on the Puerto Rico wind market, see “”.) w
Project Profile: Finca de Viento Santa Isabel
Pattern Primes Puerto Rico For Utility-Scale Wind
By Mark Del Franco
Pattern Energy’s Finca de Viento Santa Isabel, which came online in 2012, is the Island’s first utility-scale wind farm.
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