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Electric Co-op Awarded For Innovative and Highly Productive Wind Project

Wind Done Right: Savvy Electric Co-op Honored

by , Earth Techling

Power to the people takes on a whole new meaning with the rise of consumer-owned electric cooperatives. Just as co-ops are give us access to uniquely local produce and services, more and more people are joining together in the energy sector, showing there is a better way to power up.
One such organization, the Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative (ILEC), was presented with the 11th annual 2011 Wind Cooperative of the Year Award by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
ILEC Wind Farm

image via Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative

The ILEC won out over 11 other electric cooperatives, judged by an expert panel on corporate leadership, creative marketing, project innovation and benefits to customers. Innovation and effectiveness were two of the key components that secured the win for ILEC. They completed a 21-megawatt wind energy project in only 18 months—the fastest an electric distribution cooperative has designed, financed and completed a wind energy project of this scale. Using an existing substation infrastructure, they avoided building a new, transmission-level connection to the electric grid and saved the project quite a bit of time as well as approximately $5 million.

Whether or not they were surprised at the recognition, the ILEC is certainly pleasantly surprised with the success of the Iowa wind farm, which started out 2012 as a bit of an overachiever. One of the downsides to wind or solar power is its variability. Energy companies can’t exactly rely on the “if we build it, the wind will come” mentality for wind farms, so instead they must make educated decisions on where to install one through studying historical patterns.

Once in place, it is largely up to Mother Nature—who has cooperated better than the ILEC expected. Through studying historical weather patterns, ILEC predicted that the turbines would operate at 44 percent capacity during January. In reality, the turbines spun at 57 percent capacity, generating 1.9 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) above and beyond the company’s expectations.

The warm winter that much of the country experienced may have disappointed ski bunnies, but it was welcomed by the ILEC. Avoiding the ice build-up that can slow down the wind turbines contributed to the high performance.

ILEC Wind Performance Graph

image via Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative

As Rick Olesen, vice president of operations and enginnering happily reported, “Due to the outstanding wind and weather conditions, the actual energy produced for the month of January set an all-time generation record since the wind farms became operational in March 2009 of 8,848,141 kWh and a 57 percent capacity factor.”

That translates into over $100,000 additional revenue, gained at no addition expense, since wind blows for free.

Record outputs alongside the Wind Cooperative of the Year title puts the Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative off to a good start to 2012.

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