Duke Energy announces wind turbines for Willacy County

Duke Energy announced plans to build a large-scale wind farm in Willacy County that will generate 200 megawatts of electricity, enough to power roughly 60,000 homes. The Los Vientos I wind energy project, roughly 20 miles inland from the Gulf, will sell the electricity it generates to San Antonio-based CPS Energy, the nation’s largest municipally owned energy utility.

Duke Energy Renewables, a commercial business unit of Duke Energy, plans to start construction in the fourth quarter of 2011 and have the wind turbines project operational by December 2012. Los Vientos wind farm will occupy 30,000 acres of leased land.

News of the latest wind energy installation here received mixed reaction from local officials and environmental groups. Willacy County Precinct 1 Commissioner Eliberto "Beto" Guerra called the wind farm a "win-win" for the county. He said taxes from wind farms will benefit local school districts while creating jobs for residents.

Duke Energy spokesman Greg Efthimiou said Duke Energy collected wind data at the Los Vientos site for several years before proceeding with an environmental analysis and lease-option agreements with landowners.

The data revealed that the wind at the Los Vientos site blows hardest when it’s needed most — unusual for inland wind farms but likely due to the fact that the site is relatively near the coast.

"The wind resource in the area is terrific," Efthimiou said. "The wind blows strongest and most consistently during peak demand during the day, particularly in the afternoon when people are coming home and turning on their TVs and turning on their ovens. The wind is blowing pretty strong.

Los Vientos will make the fourth wind farm in Texas for Duke Energy, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. The company owns just under 1,000 megawatts of generating capacity at nine wind farms in the United States, including four in Wyoming, one in Colorado and one in Pennsylvania.

The power-selling agreement with CPS is for 25 years, which made the project economically feasible for Duke Energy to build and guarantees a locked-in rate for CPS for electricity purchased from Los Vientos during the contract period. CPS currently buys all the electricity generated at Duke Energy’s 14-megawatt Blue Wing solar project in San Antonio.

Duke Energy has invested $1.75 billion in wind-farm construction since 2007, and recently announced its intention to acquire three wind turbines projects — two in Kansas and one in Wisconsin — totalling 319 megawatts of generating capacity.

Duke Energy Renewables is developing a second phase of the Los Vientos wind farm in the region, but the company has not announced a power purchase agreement for Phase II.

Efthimiou said it’s not clear yet how many individual wind turbines Los Vientos 1 will require, since output differs depending on the manufacturer, and no agreement has been signed with a turbine supplier to date.

Most wind farms in the United States use wind turbines of 2- to 2.5-megawatt generating capacity, he said. The structures themselves typically stand 400 to 500 feet tall from the base to the tip of a blade at the 12 o’clock position.

Duke Energy Renewables owns nearly 1,000 MW of generating capacity at nine U.S. wind farms – four in Wyoming, three in Texas, one in Colorado and one in Pennsylvania. Since 2007, the company has invested approximately $1.75 billion to build its fleet of wind farms. Duke Energy recently announced the upcoming acquisition of the 20-MW Shirley Windpower Project (May 26) in Glenmore, Wis., and plans to build the 168-MW Ironwood Windpower Project (May 24) in Ford County, Kan., and the 131-MW Cimarron II Windpower Project (July 6) in Gray County, Kan.

Duke Energy Renewables, part of Duke Energy’s Commercial Businesses, is a leader in developing innovative wind and solar energy solutions for customers throughout the United States. The company’s growing portfolio of commercial renewable assets includes nine wind farms and four solar farms in operation in five states, totaling approximately 1,000 megawatts in electric-generating capacity.

CPS Energy is the nation’s largest municipally owned natural gas and electric utility, providing service to approximately 717,000 electric customers and 325,000 natural gas customers in and around the City of San Antonio. The utility ranks among the nation’s lowest-cost energy providers while ranking number 1 in wind-energy capacity among municipally owned utilities.