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Renewable Energy Projects of the Year Highlight the Industry's Best Achievements

Last night, Renewable Energy World network editors announced the project of the year winners at an Awards Gala during Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo, North America, which is co-located with Power-Gen International. Below, find our winners and runners up.

Best Solar Project: Solarpark Meuro, owned by GP Joule and saferay in Brandenburg, Germany

Worldwide, there are more than 70 GW of installed solar photovoltaic (PV), according to the latest REN21 Global Status Report. That’s more than ten times the amount of installed solar PV capacity than just five years ago. No country has been as far ahead of the pack in terms of installing solar power capacity than Germany. 

The largest PV project in Germany, the 166 MW Solarpark Meuro covers 200 hectares (491 acres) and was constructed on a former lignite mining strip. Canadian Solar provided panels for 148 MW of the project, which was built by GP Joule and saferay in the East German city. The additional 18 MW of solar modules came from First Solar and were installed by Phoenix.  Solarpark Meuro’s benefits are many.  The project turns a brownfield, a former lignite mining strip, into an energy producing solar farm. In addition, the project created hundreds of local jobs when it was built, with most construction and operation contracts awarded to local companies.

Finally, Solarpark Meuro is a testament to Germany’s wildly successful -- and hotly debated -- feed-in tariff (FIT), which has spurred more than 29 GW of total installed capacity in the country. Under the FIT, owners of solar generation assets sell all the power that they generate to the utility at a premium rate. The utility collects the additional money needed to fund the FIT payments through added taxes on all ratepayers’ bills.

Solarpark Meuro was commissioned in late September 2011 by Prime Minister of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck.

Best Solar Project Runner-Up: Alamosa Solar Project, owned by Cogentrix in Alamosa, Colo.

Cogentrix’s 30 MW concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) project in Alamosa, Colo. is the largest high-concentration solar field in the world, generating power for use by customers of Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel Energy subsidiary. 

Commissioned in April 2012, this large-scale project sets a precedent for renewable power generation, both through its $90 million in funding from the Department of Energy and its commercialization of concentrating photovoltaic power generation. The plant is located on a 225-acre site in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, chosen specifically for its outstanding sunlight characteristics (high DNI), its high elevation (7,800 FASL) and the presence of an existing 115 kV transmission line for interconnection.

The Alamosa Solar Project consists of 504 dual-axis, pedestal-mounted trackers, each with a capacity of approximately 60 kW. A hydraulic motor rotates and tilts the assembly throughout the day so the surface of each panel maintains an optimal angle with the sun. Each tracker assembly is 70 feet wide by 50 feet high and converts one-fourth of the sun's energy into useable electricity. Each assembly contains 7,560 Fresnel lenses that concentrate sunlight approximately 500 times onto multi-junction solar cells, which produces more energy at a lower cost than silicon solar cell-based technology.

The facility has more than 28 miles of grounding cable throughout the site and more than 52 miles of underground electric cable for transferring the power from the field to the interconnection transmission grid at 115 kV. 

The Alamosa Valley is currently undergoing a transition away from an agricultural economic base due to the ever-restrictive use of water. The benefits from the construction and long-term operation of the Alamosa facility are an increase to the local tax base and the establishment of long-term jobs at the facility, which will help offset any decline in the loss of agricultural work.

Cogentrix and Xcel Energy, the state's largest utility, spent about a month testing the system and making sure it performed to expectations. The facility is now supplying electricity to Xcel under a power purchase agreement (PPA) and paving the way for more communities across the country to tap into the potential for renewable solar energy generation.

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Best Hydro Project of the Year: The Chacayes Hydroelectric Station, owned by Pacific Hydro Chile in Chile

Pacific Hydro Chile (PHC) saw an opportunity to develop run-of-river hydroelectric plants in the Cachapoal Basin to feed into the national grid and achieve attractive returns, especially considering the expected 6 percent annual growth in electrical demand in the country.

In 2005, PHC commissioned a feasibility study of the Cachapoal River basin, which resulted in the recommendation for six run-of-river projects. The 111 MW Chacayes hydroelectric project is the first in a series of planned developments on the river to be undertaken by PHC and co-owned by Astaldi Concessions. The project includes diversion weirs, a daily regulation pond, a desander, canals, tunnels and a surface powerhouse. 

Hatch, formerly Acres International, provided consulting services for the basic and definition engineering and the preparation of tender documents for an Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management (EPCM) contract for the 111 MW Chacayes project.

The project was built under an EPC contract with Constructora Astaldi Fe Grande Cachapoal Ltda, a consortium made up of Astaldi SPa from Italy and Fe Grande, a Chilean construction company. Hatch was responsible for reviewing the EPC contractor’s detailed design documentation and drawings for civil works, mechanical and electrical systems and equipment supply.

The project posed a number of logistical challenges. The development is in a seismically active region of Chile, and one of the two diversion intakes is located in a national reserve. Careful attention had to be given to the visual impacts on the unique development.

Chacayes, which came online in September 2011, is the first of six hydropower projects in the $2 billion development pipeline in the valley. Together, the six projects will add more than 600 MW of renewable energy capacity to Chile’s national grid. 

Clean energy generated at Chacayes is supplied to Chilectra, the largest electricity distributor in the country, under a long-term power purchase agreement.

Best Hydro Project Runner-Up: Jordan Hydroelectric Project, owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, North Carolina

The 4.4 MW Jordan Hydroelectric Project is located on the New Hope River in North Carolina at a 115-foot-high flood storage dam operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This small hydro project, developed by an independent power producer, consists of two 2.2 MW vertical Kaplan turbines. Each turbine-generator unit is located inside of a 13-foot square by 100-foot-high steel box, or module, installed on the upstream side of the dam’s intake tower. The module supports the turbine, generator, and houses the equipment’s hydraulic power unit, ventilation and water filter systems, oil coolers, governors, and controls. 

Kleinschmidt and North Fork Electric Inc., the module designer, fabricator, and installer, worked closely on the development of the innovative concept for the project, its layout, final design, fabrication and construction. Kleinschmidt designed the structural support system to allow a 90-ton rough terrain crane to be located on the intake tower roof for the assembly and installation of the modules and equipment. 

The project is also unique in that it used existing, proven hydropower technology in a location that has historically been overlooked as a potential power source. The unique design allows the modules to be raised up to 7 feet when flow releases are between 3,000 and 12,000 cfs, allowing power generation to occur 95 percent of the time.

The project was completed at an installed cost of approximately $2,300 per kW, inclusive of all development, design, equipment, and construction costs. Construction costs of a hydroelectric project in a new powerhouse at an existing dam typically have an installed cost of $4,000 to $5,000 per kW. The installed cost of the project was kept low because there was no need to construct significant civil works to house the power generating equipment.

The first turbine became commercially operational in January 2012 and the second unit was operational in July 2012. Many design features implemented in the Jordan Hydroelectric Project could be utilized at other dams that contain a similar discharge tower and, as a result, produce clean, renewable energy from a previously untapped source.

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Best Wind Project Winner: Spring Valley Wind Project, owned by Pattern Energy in Ely, Nev.

The 151.8 MW Spring Valley Wind Project in Ely, Nev. Was the first wind farm to be built on federal land under a program through the U.S. Department of the Interior, which aimed to authorize 10,000 MW of renewable energy on public lands. 

The planning process for Spring Valley began in 2006, and the Bureau of Land Management issued Pattern Energy its right of way in 2007. The project broke ground in August 2011, and was commissioned in June 2012. The 66-turbine project is not only the first wind project on public land, it marks the first wind project in the state of Nevada.

Pattern Energy developed the project with 66 Siemens 2.3 MW wind turbines, and worked with several federal agencies and environmental groups during the environmental review and permit process, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife, NV Energy, local tribes and the Sierra Club. 

Developers implemented innovative initiatives to address environmental concerns.  These initiatives include funding for sage grouse, curtailment standards, modified electrical lines to reduce risks to birds, and an advanced radar system designed to protect birds and bats.

Spring Valley gave a boost to the local community. The project created approximately 240 jobs during construction and allows for 13 permanent operations and maintenance (O&M) positions. More than 40 businesses throughout Nevada were involved during construction and nearly $10 million has been spent with those businesses on construction goods and services. The wind energy project is expected to generate more than $20 million in tax revenue for White Pine County and the state of Nevada's Renewable Energy Fund over the next 20 years. 

Best Wind Project Runner-Up: Settler’s Trail Wind Farm, owned by E-ON Climate and Renewables in Iroquois County, Ill.

The Settler's Trail Wind Farm, located in Iroquois County, Ill., was developed by E-ON Climate and Renewables and contracted by White Construction Inc. The 150.4 MW project consisted of 94 GE 1.6 MW wind turbine generators. 

The 20,000-acre project site was built on an existing farming community that produces corn and soybeans, and a majority of the farmland is still usable. Settler's Trail was designed to integrate the wind turbines into the existing farmland. During construction, each wind turbine disrupted approximately four acres of property for one crop season. However upon completion, farmers could continue to harvest crops up to 15 feet of the surrounding turbine base in most cases. The final impact area is less than 1/20th of an acre loss of farming production, and farmers are also compensated by E-ON for power produced by the turbines.

The project was also constructed using a sequencing method, which benefitted both E-ON and the farmers. According to White Construction, wind turbine projects are designed with a specific number of turbines tied together by collector circuits, which feed independently to a substation. Settlers Farm was built in a sequential fashion that completed all circuits simultaneously, and allowed E-ON to begin power generation on each circuit as they were completed and earn early revenue on the power produced from the wind farm.

Settlers Trail allowed for more than 80 jobs during construction, which cumulated over 200,000 work hours, and now employs approximately 12 new permanent positions to support the daily operations and maintenance.

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Best Geothermal Project: Hudson Ranch I (now the John L. Featherstone Plant), owned by EnergySource in Imperial Valley, Calif. 

The 49.9 MW Hudson Ranch I geothermal plant, renamed John L. Featherstone Plant, was commissioned in March 2012 in Imperial Valley, Calif. It is the first geothermal plant to go online in the Salton Sea area in 20 years. Recognizing the area's huge potential capacity of reportedly up to 2 GW, EnergySource expects to start drilling for its 49.9 MW Hudson Ranch II project and hopes to start construction in 2013. 

The decision to rename the plant after Featherstone was a simple one: A geothermal pioneer in the Salton Sea area since the 1970s and one of the founders of EnergySource, Featherstone has contributed several patents that have influenced plant design, the recovery of minerals from geothermal brine and more.

The $400 million project underwent construction in 2010 and created over 200 construction jobs; it now employs 55 full-time workers. It is working at its full 49.9 MW capacity, and power is sold to the Salt River Project in Arizona under a 30-year PPA. 

“The Salton Sea geothermal field is among the world’s largest and highest temperature resources because it lies directly inside an active plate tectonic boundary," said Dennis V. McGinn, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and keynote speaker at the Hudson Ranch I unveiling. 

The Salton Sea landscape posed some difficulties during construction, including heavy mineralization within the brine that threatened to clog the geothermal system. EnergySource partnered with Simbol Minerals to manage an extraction process, which required extra infrastructure to clear the brine. The extracted minerals will then be used to manufacture batteries. The EnergySource-Simbol partnership is expected to continue throughout the construction of Hudson Ranch II.

Best Geothermal Project Runner-Up: PMU Dominica, on the island of Dominica

Geothermal potential in the Caribbean is thought to be substantial, but it remains largely untapped. The island of Dominica is one of the more promising sites, and is believed to have more than 1,300 MW of power potential, and the government is eager to develop the technology and wean itself off of expensive fossil fuels. 

The government of Dominica signed an agreement with Iceland GeoSurvey (ISOR) to drill three exploration wells to test for geothermal potential on the island in December 2011. The project was also financed by the French Development Agency (ADF) and the European Development Fund (EDF). ISOR used a slim well concept, which drills holes of four inches or less in diameter to depths of 1,800 meters. Aside from being more economical, slim hole drilling can be used to determine what the resources consist of and if they are usable for electricity production. 

Results from the three wells appear to be successful, and researchers are confident that the wells will be hot enough to produce electricity. 

“It looks very strong so far,” said Will Osborne of the project team. “The potential, I would guess, is about a couple of megawatts at least, but it’s only partially open. This is just a small diameter test, so for a smaller well, this is a very good result.”

The team will collect resource and environmental data to determine the exact resource capacity for the project.

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Best Biomass Project: Nacogdoches Generating Facility, owned by Southern Co. in Nacogdoches County, Texas 

The 100 MW Nacogdoches Generating Facility is a full-scale biomass plant in Nacogdoches County, Texas. The nation’s largest biomass plant supplies all of its power to Austin Energy in a 20-year PPA. The Austin City Council approved the $2.3 billion project in 2008, and the plant was commissioned in June 2012.

The entire facility utilizes just one boiler, making it the largest biomass bubbling fluidized bed (BFB) boiler unit in the world. The Nacogdoches biomass plant is also unique because it uses 100 percent non-merchantable wood fuel, which consists of forest residue from the surrounding areas, wood processing residues and clean municipal wood waste. Approximately 1 million tons of fuel will be required annually, which is to be procured within a 75-mile radius of the project site. 

During construction, extreme drought put the water supply for the facility, the Angelina River, in jeopardy – the river became completely dry and was deemed unreliable to supply the facility. Developers constructed a 10-mile water line to a nearby lake that now provides ample water to supply plant operations.

Nacogdoches has made a significant impact in the surrounding towns. During construction, more than 100 vendor contracts for services and maintenance were established, as well as 25 fuel supply contracts. The facility allowed for more than 1,000 construction jobs, which was a boost for the local economy in the 200-resident town of Sacul. The facility is also set to employ 40 full-time workers. To train these employees, Southern Power and a fuel supplier sponsored a charity auction that contributed $21,000 to the Nacogdoches Technical Training Center. The facility will also contribute an estimated $58 million in new taxes over the next 20 years.  

Best Bioenergy Project Runner-Up: Nocton Fen Farm, developed by Cummins Power Generation in the United Kingdom

Bardney, Lincolshire, United Kingdom is considered picturesque British countryside. So when developers proposed an anaerobic digester facility be built in the rolling hills of Bardney in 2010, there was some concern. But two years later, one would never know that the facility is already generating energy at first glance. 

Funded in part by government grants, the 2 MW Nocton Fen Farm was built as part of an energy center in Bardney. An anaerobic digester, it generates heat and electricity with waste from local facilities including animal and crop waste from farms, brewery waste, and other mixed materials.

The digestion process uses these materials to produce biogas, which consists of mainly methane and carbon dioxide that is then converted to electricity and heat. Surplus electricity will be fed back into the National Grid, and leftover waste will be used locally as fertilizer. The facility also allows for landfill control in the community and boosts clean energy production that flows into the grid. 

To appease the environmental and scenery concerns, the land where the facility lies was lowered, and the extracted soil was used to create bunding (similar to a wall) around the entire site, which minimizes the digester’s appearance on the local landscape.  In order to achieve this, the ground level was reduced below sea level by approximately 5 meters through the removal of topsoil, subsoil and several meters of gravel and sand. This material was then used to provide a bund around the whole site, which was further landscaped to resemble the surrounding countryside.

The site was also constructed away from towns or villages and has absolute minimal affect on any local who live near the site, which is limited to about six houses in total – the nearest resident is more than 1 KM away.

Lead image: Envelope via Shutterstock

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