Construction starts on Nebraska wind farm that will sell electricity to Facebook for Omaha-area data center

Source: By Cole Epley, Omaha world Herald • Posted: Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Construction began Tuesday on the Dixon County, Nebraska, wind farm from which Facebook will buy electricity to power its massive Omaha-area data center.

Survey work and site preparation will begin immediately, officials from Boston-area Enel Green Power North America said, and turbine deliveries are expected in June.

“We’ll start road work before winter sets in, and major construction work will begin after the winter,” said Mark McGrail, associate vice president for energy management for Enel Green Power North America.

Major construction work will include digging out and building foundations for turbine bases for the $430 million project in Dixon County. Company officials expect the wind farm to be in service during the fourth quarter of 2018.

When it’s built, Rattlesnake Creek will comprise 101 3.15-megawatt wind turbines with total capacity of 320 megawatts.

Facebook will purchase 200 megawatts of that output, and the rest will be sold to other buyers.

The deal is the first of its kind in Nebraska and required close work between the social media company and the Omaha Public Power District, which had to devise a special rate structure that allowed Facebook to acquire 100 percent of its electricity for the Papillion site from a new wind farm.

Some utilities are not yet prepared or willing to take that step, said Facebook data center energy manager Paul Clements during comments at the Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference in Lincoln on Tuesday.

But research from Washington, D.C.-based corporate sustainability expert David Gardiner shows that a significant number of large companies — and not just Silicon Valley tech types — are clamoring for energy sources that will either eliminate or reduce their carbon footprints.

Forty-eight percent of all Fortune 500 companies have targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency or increase their renewable energy portfolios; among the Fortune 100, that share increases to 63 percent, Gardiner said Tuesday.

It captured the attention of economic development professionals and utility companies, too, since ratepayer-owned utilities like OPPD aren’t generally known for being so flexible when it comes to economic development.

“A lot of eyes are on what you guys did, and it’s a great move that shows public power can interface with corporate America and really get things done,” said David Reamer, executive vice president of business development for Minneapolis-based renewable energy developer Geronimo Energy.

The project will be the second-largest wind farm for Enel Green Power North America, which purchased the Rattlesnake Creek project from Kansas-based Tradewind Energy just last week. Parent company Enel Group has global headquarters in Rome.

Company officials declined to discuss the terms of the deal but said the two organizations are “strategic partners.”

“The acquisition of the Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project by EGPNA enables us to continue to help lead the power industry in the shift that is occurring toward sustainability,” said Rob Freeman, chief executive of Tradewind. “We salute the landowners and the Dixon County community officials for making this project a reality, and the commitment to sustainable energy from companies like Facebook that will continue to drive wind energy development across the country.”

Enel’s McGrail said the company estimates that Dixon County landowners and tax coffers will benefit from more than $80 million in landowner lease payments and local taxes over a 20-year term.

Once construction goes full tilt, Enel expects about 300 workers to be on-site. That labor is “generally local,” McGrail said.

Once the wind farm is complete, Enel plans to have 12 to 16 full-time employees at Rattlesnake Creek.

The project will be situated just west of South Sioux City, near the towns of Allen, Emerson and Wakefield.