As part of the first phase to build a 4,000 MW wind farm in the Texas panhandle, Pickens ordered 667 turbines from GE. These turbines are to be ready in 2010 and 2011, but the wind farm was called off due to funding and transmission problems. Now that’s a boondoggle.
The economy and the wind energy market were very different just over a year ago when this order was placed. The wind industry was booming and a massive 8,900 MW of wind energy capacity was installed in 2008 in North America – this represents 40% of all total new capacity. Steel prices were sky high and demand greatly exceeded turbine supply. Prices soared and it was difficult to buy small quantities of turbines.
Kathy Belyeu, manager of industry information services for the American Wind Energy Association, says:
In the heat of all the development that was going on last year, there was definitely the feeling that smaller projects were getting squeezed. If you weren’t able to go to the turbine manufacturer and purchase a big quantity of turbines, they weren’t really going to talk to you.
Now Pickens wants to unload these turbines, either by creating some smaller wind farms or by selling them off. He is looking for buyers in the Midwest or in Canada. These turbines have a rotor diameter of 77 meters however and are ideally suited for areas with higher wind speeds. Although the Midwest has a decent transmission grid for wind farms, it lacks the strong wind speeds that are optimal for these turbines.
Pickens is not the only person with a bunch of turbines on his hands and a stalled project. “Some of the cheapest turbines these days are available when another company pre-ordered the them, still has a slot and is trying to resell them off themselves,” says Wes Slaymaker, owner of WES Engineering
This predicament may help mid-scale wind projects to thrive, which previously couldn’t obtain big name turbines when the market was really booming. “The municipal utility company I’m working with in Illinois is looking at General Electric and Vestas turbines, some of the common name turbines and they are looking at buying them for much less than a year ago,” says Slaymaker.
Greater turbine availability and lower prices are major factors in the wind energy market at the moment, but financing still remains a major hurdle.