A crew prepares to hoist the blades of a wind turbine into the air Monday at a site east of county road 300 East just north of the Jay/Randolph county line. As of Thursday evening, 31 of the 57 turbines that will be part of Bluff Point Wind Energy Center had been erected. (The Commercial Review/Ray Cooney)
After more than 10 years of planning and waiting, Jay County residents are about two months away from seeing wind turbines spinning.
Construction of Bluff Point Wind Energy Center in southern Jay County and northern Randolph County has passed the halfway point, with 31 turbines fully assembled as of Thursday evening. All 57 turbines are expected to be complete next month and be in operation by early November.
The project has been in the works since late 2006, when the initial developer — Indiana Michigan Power — met with local officials to discuss gathering information about a potential wind farm in the area.
“It’s good getting to see it all come together,” said development manager Zack Melda of NextEra Energy Resources, which took over development of the wind farm in 2011. “It’s really exciting for us seeing the landowners’ reaction on it too, and the county’s reaction, because you’ve been working so hard on the same goal.
“And things take time. Good things take time.
“It’s not easy. But once you get to this point, you can see how fast they go up.”
Bluff Point is one of three wind projects NextEra, the largest U.S. producer of wind energy with more than 110 operations, is building this year. Also in progress are Golden Hills North Wind Energy Center in Tracy, California, about 55 miles east of San Francisco, and Cottonwood Wind Energy Center in southern Nebraska.
In the pipeline for the Florida-based company is Jordan Creek Wind Farm in Benton County on the west side of Indiana that is scheduled for construction in 2019. Developers are working toward a project in Fayette County as well.
“There are always projects in various stages of development,” said Bryan Garner, NextEra’s communications manager. “It takes several years to get to this point.”
Construction, which is being handled by Minnesota-based Blattner Energy, at the Bluff Point site began in May, with the creation of the 34 “string roads” to the turbines and site preparation. The first turbines were erected near county road 250 West north of the Jay/Randolph county line early this month.
At its peak, the project has had about 200 workers in various capacities, and area firms All Circuit Electric, Lyons Farm Drainage, Cy Scwhieterman, Inc., Landon Excavating, Hess Fencing, Shoestring Enterprises, Ernst Concrete and U.S. Aggregates have all been involved.
Planning late last year called for the wind farm to be operational by Dec. 9, but a variety of factors have allowed that timeline to be moved up. Crews expect to have all of the 2.1 megawatt turbines erected by the first half of October, and NextEra has made a commitment to Appalachian Power to have the facility online no later than Nov. 6.
“We were able to get started the first of the spring and get everything in place,” said Melda. “Weather cooperated. And you get your deliveries out here and all your logistics get worked out.”
Construction of the project marks the the culmination of a process that started nearly 11 years ago and several times looked as if it would not come to fruition.
The wind farm was slated to be built in 2012, but those plans were changed when American Electric Power backed out of its commitment to buy the energy from the facility. NextEra stepped in as the new developer four months later, and by the end of 2012 announced plans for a 70-turbine facility.
It took until last summer for the company to find a buyer — Appalachain, a subsidiary of American Electric Power — for the 120 megawatts of power Bluff Point will produce. Site selection for the 57 turbines — the number was reduced because of improved technology — occurred early this year.
“We worked very closely with both counties, before we put any shovels in the ground,” said Melda. “Each one of these were staked out and cross-checked with the setback requirements, FFA requirements,” said Melda.
About two-thirds of the $200 million investment is in Jay County, making it the largest individual construction project in the county’s history.
Jay County will also receive nearly $1 million in economic development funds as part of the project. And a road agreement calls for NextEra to return roads, which are taking a beating from construction traffic, to as-good or better condition than they were in before the project began.
When it is operational, Bluff Point Wind Energy Center will have eight full-time jobs for wind technicians who will work out of a permanent operations and maintenance building next to the substation currently being construction on the north side of county road 800 South about a third of a mile west of U.S. 27.