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by Laura Walker Chung | May 01, 2021


8:00 AM: After waking up in the Holiday Inn in a remote part of Iowa, you get in your rented SUV and drive into town to have a breakfast meeting at the local diner with the mayor. Your development team has optioned a hilltop in the area for developing a windpower facility, and you are now in the process of negotiating a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT agreement) with the town. It’s probably going to end up being a new fire truck, school playground, and the new access road you will be constructing anyway up to your site. You are flying solo on this meeting, confirming the outline of the agreement with the mayor and putting in some time to continuing to build this crucial relationship.

10:00 AM: You drive up to the site to take a look around and call on the farmer who owns the land. The two of you take a walk around the fields together, making note of some exposed bedrock that indicates a spot where it will be too expensive to lay tower foundations. He invites you inside his home for some coffee, and you chat about milk prices. You brought a few photos of wind turbine installations in Europe with cows grazing nonchalantly at the base of the towers, and talk a little about the vast experience with windpower in Europe, where the turbines have been shown to have no negative impact on the underlying farmland or the cattle that call it home.

12:00 PM: Back at the hotel, you participate in a conference call with the lead developer and engineers back in the home office. Your team is working up a cost estimate for the transmission system interconnect, in preparation for negotiating the price with the local utility. By law, utilities have to allow independent generators like your company to hook up to the grid, but there’s little to prevent them from exacting a high price for doing so. The engineers are preparing some exhibits to counter the anticipated argument that the wind turbines will affect local voltage stability.

1:30 PM: Checking your email, you find that one of the turbine manufacturers has responded to your company’s request-for-proposal (RFP) for the 20 turbines plus engineering, procurement, and construction services. You’ll plug their information into the bid comparison spreadsheet you created when you’re back in the office tomorrow. On your voicemail is an “all clear” message from the subcontractor who is conducting the archaeological study of the site—he was tasked with verifying that there are no remains of historical structures anywhere on the land (which would likely cause the town to deny a building permit).

3:00 PM: On your two-hour-long drive to the airport to fly home, you stop at another farmer’s home in the next town over. He had contacted your company when he heard that you were planning on building down the road, saying he was interested in showing someone his windy site. You walk around his land together, taking note of flagged trees (permanently bent over at an angle as a result of strong, uni-directional winds). While this is typically a symptom of a good wind resource, there’s little conclusion anyone can draw until you install a met data tower and measure actual wind speeds for a year. The wind today feels very gusty, which could be a bad sign—too much turbulence in the local wind pattern causes wear and tear on turbines, resulting in high maintenance costs and shorter equipment life. You tell him you’ll bring up the idea of looking more carefully at his site with your team at home.

7:30 PM: On the plane ride back to your home base, you do a little reading. Your department is working on formalizing the development process for wind plants in order to save time and money. The idea is to structure the process with a set sequence of activities from low-cost to high-cost and high-level fatal flaw checks to detailed design activities; after each major step in the process, a development oversight committee would decide whether to proceed or not. You read through the draft list to see if there’s anything you can add, but it seems very thorough.