Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Visiting Pattern's Spring Valley Wind Farm

The local schools went on a field trip to Pattern Energy's Spring Valley Wind Farm. I had wanted to learn more about it, so I arranged to take most of the day off work so I could attend. 

The school bus pulled up to a tan-colored building in the middle of the wind farm that is easy to miss from Highway 6 and 50.

We went inside and they had chairs arranged for us in their big open part.

But before we listened to a presentation, we did the morning stretching. That was a nice way to get started!

Then we learned a lot of interesting things about the wind farm. There are 66 turbines, each with a turbine size of 2.3 MW for a total project capacity of 152 MW. The blade length is 49m/161 ft. The project area covers 7,673 acres, and during operations 77 acres are being used. They have a 20-year contract and are in year 5 now. The project generates energy equal to the needs of about 40,000 homes.

The turbines were manufactured by Siemens, and they have a 10-year contract to do the maintenance. One of the maintenance workers showed us his industrial harness and all the attachments and explained what it was like to climb up inside one of the wind turbines.

Then we went into the work room and saw the monitor that showed nearby lightning strikes. They stop operations if lightning strikes are within 30 miles.

The turbines are also monitored by Pattern's home office in Houston, Texas, and by Siemens' home office in Denmark.

They had this really cool poster on the wall. There are blinking red lights on top of some of the turbines  at night for air traffic, but they try to keep all other lights really low so as to not disturb the night skies.

I like how the poster features bats. This project was quite controversial because it is located near Rose Guano Cave, a migratory stop for more than three million Mexican free-tailed bats each summer and fall. When they started in 2012, they were getting over 500 mortalities in a year (mainly due to bats getting close to the turbines and the change in barometric pressure causing their insides to rupture). Fortunately this story has a mostly good ending. Pattern Energy agreed to installing an infrared beam across the entrance of the cave to count how many bats are exiting. As many as 2,000 bats per minute can leave at a time. When the counts are high, the turbines don't start at 7 mph, but at 11 mph instead. Bats fly more at the lower wind speeds, and Pattern isn't losing as much revenue at that lower wind speed. The result has been a decrease in bat deaths, to about 100 per year. Bird deaths have always been lower than permitted, although about one golden eagle per year is killed. (This LVRJ article has more info.)

We saw a screen showing the status of each wind turbine.

While we were loading the bus, I got a photo of the substation. A big reason this wind farm was located here is that there are major transmission lines that pass through from Delta, Utah to Los Angeles, California. Pattern Energy sells all the energy they produce to Nevada Energy.

 It was a stormy day, with lots of passing clouds. The turbines were turning. They can turn up to wind speeds of 56 mph, then they are turned off to prevent damage.

We got off the bus at the last wind turbine before getting back on the highway. A few lucky kids got to wear helmets and get a little closer. Notice the snow on the ground, it was a cold day for late April!

Everyone else stayed by the bus.

We craned our necks up to look at the very tall wind turbine. Each turbine is taller than a football field--about 426 feet high!

Here's a truck for scale, but it still is hard to process how big these are. The blades at the ends can go up to 200 mph.

We watched, mesmerized.
Overall, it was a super interesting field trip, and I was glad to learn more about the wind farm. The employees there seemed very concerned about being good stewards of the land while they extracted energy from the wind.

Our day wasn't over, though. We headed further north to Cleveland Ranch, a ranch started in the mid-1860s by Abner C. Cleveland. This became the largest fenced ranch in Nevada for a time. Cleveland was a Nevada State Senator. You can read more about the history here , or for the definitive history, check out this free 440-page PDF by Lenora Healy (paperback version costs $18). The LDS church now owns this ranch.

The kids were treated to a hay ride.

The ranch is beautiful, but it was cold that day, as evidenced by these icicles.

We also went on a walking tour of the historic structures, including Cleveland's original log cabin and some of the storage sheds.
The kids were fascinated by the animals, and in the words of Desert Boy, "how cool all the old things were."


jhami said...

Great post! Love the pictures. Wish I could've joined in on the fun!

Anonymous said...

Beware of brainwashing kids into misunderstanding what helping the environment really means. Society is raising too many pseudo-environmentalists with no land ethic. Large, conspicuous wind projects promote the notion that we can "save the planet" while simultaneously destroying nature. This particular wind "farm" invaded one of Nevada's best remote landscapes, tarnishing the view from Great Basin park. Parks lose their value when ringed with industry.

The article also repeats the misleading claim that wind turbines only affect a small portion of their total acreage spread; as if their vertical prominence is trivial, including red lights all night. It's wrong to say these turbines only only affect 77 of the 7,673 acres they occupied. Spring Valley also had to be shut down due to bat deaths, which they never resolve. Such situations are common because machines of that scale will always interfere with nature.

Solar panels on roofs and other developed lands have a much smaller footprint. Wind energy will also never be free from require fossil fuels for its components and installation.

Ross Rytting said...

Drove by wind farm on November 30th and back again on December 3rd and noticed on both days, they were not in operation, by chance do you have an idea/insight as to why? Winds were definitely above 11 mph... Thanks

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