Wind farm in Kimball, Nebraska, is being decommissioned, but a new one will rise on the same site in 2018

Source: By Cole Epley, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Thursday, November 16, 2017

LINCOLN — For the first time in about seven years as a wind developer, Sandhills Energy President Eric Johnson finally has an answer to the question he most commonly gets asked: What happens to wind farms when they’ve reached the end of their useful lives?

At least in Kimball, Nebraska, where Johnson’s company is working with a Lincoln-based general contractor to decommission the state’s first utility-scale wind farm, the answer is to build a bigger, better wind energy project.

The seven turbines comprising 10.5-megawatts of electric generation capacity about three miles northwest of Kimball are being decommissioned by Lincoln-based NGC Group and Sandhills Energy of Valentine, which plans to put in service a new 30-megawatt wind farm atop the same site in the second quarter of 2018.

The 15-year-old wind farm preceding the new project became too expensive to continue pouring money into, said Shannon Coleman, supervisor of resource planning and analysis for the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, or MEAN.

The decision came at a time when Nebraska electric utilities were increasingly confronting a new energy environment in which even typically low-cost coal is being edged out by less-expensive wind energy generators.

The state in the last 12 months has said goodbye to its oldest utility-scale nuclear plant (and first-ever utility-scale wind farm) and hello to the largest wind energy development built in the U.S. in 2016.

“I think the message is that it worked, MEAN sees that it worked, and they want three times as much as last time,” Johnson said Tuesday during a presentation at the Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference.

Where the MEAN Kimball Wind Project was the pioneer of large-scale wind energy developments in Nebraska, its decommissioning also represents a first: No other utility-scale wind project has yet been retired and torn down in the state.

Toward the end of its expected 15-year lifespan, problems with the Kimball turbines’ generators dogged MEAN and led the not-for-profit electricity wholesaler to decide to bid out the decommissioning of the old turbines in tandem with a new and larger wind farm.

(The problem generators were notorious for having operational problems at other wind farms, too, and MEAN replaced 17 of them during the life of the Kimball project.)

The wind farm represented the sole generating asset that MEAN owned; the rest of its generation portfolio comprises energy purchased on the wholesale market, agreements to purchase output from coal plants in Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming, and agreements to buy energy from other sources including renewables and nuclear power.