Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Big Clipper Windpower Plans Turbine Plant

Article Published: Monday, January 17, 2005
Clipper Windpower plant could employ as many as 550
Colorado is competing with Nevada for the plant, which would boost the state's wind prominence.
By Steve Raabe Denver Post Staff Writer

Post / Jerry Cleveland
Troy Boro, a technician with Mountain Valley Energy, inspects the drive-train system of a Clipper Windpower Inc. turbine undergoing testing in Boulder last Thursday. Clipper is considering Colorado as a location for a plant to build the taller, more productive turbines.

A California wind-energy company is eyeing Colorado as a location to build the nation's largest wind turbines.
Clipper Windpower Inc. said Colorado and Nevada are finalists in the company's plan to build a plant that would produce a new line of wind generators soaring 435 feet into the air - more than 100 feet taller than downtown Denver's Daniels & Fisher tower.
The manufacturing and assembly plant initially would employ 75 workers and ultimately could grow to as many as 550 employees, earning annual salaries averaging $42,000, Clipper Windpower chief executive Jim Dehlsen said.
Clipper expects to make a decision on the location of its western manufacturing facility by the end of this month, Dehlsen said.
Clipper plans to unveil a prototype of the new turbine - minus its 300-foot-diameter rotor - in Denver in May at Windpower 2005, the annual conference and exhibition of the American Wind Energy Association.
Placing the manufacturing plant in Colorado would add to the state's growing prominence in wind generation. Among recent developments:
The Colorado Green wind farm near Lamar, opened a year ago, is the nation's fifth- largest wind project.
Xcel Energy recently received bids from developers for 2,000 megawatts of wind energy, enough to serve the cities of Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs. Xcel initially will accept just 500 megawatts of the bids, although the utility may add more later.
Colorado voters in November approved a ballot measure requiring the state's largest utilities to acquire 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2015. Most is expected to come from wind generators.
Clipper's new turbines will generate a maximum of 2.5 megawatts, making them two-thirds more powerful than the 1.5-megawatt units made by GE Wind Energy that are used at the Lamar wind farm.
One megawatt of continuous electricity serves about 650 homes. Because the wind blows sporadically, one megawatt of wind capacity serves about 240 to 300 average homes.
Industry analysts said Clipper's large turbine could bring significant improvements in the economics of wind energy.
"Larger turbines make a tremendous difference in the cost competitiveness of wind power" compared with coal and natural gas, said Gary Schmitz of the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Clipper's new turbine is being tested at NREL's wind-energy research center in Jefferson County.
While larger turbines produce far more power than smaller units, their ground "footprints" - the amount of surface area they occupy - are only slightly larger.
For example, a wind farm under development by Clipper in Maryland will produce 100 megawatts using the company's new turbines, compared with 70 megawatts if smaller turbines were used on the same amount of acreage.
In addition, the rotors of the larger turbines are higher in the air, causing fewer bird and bat deaths from collisions with blades.
While wind power is widely embraced for its environmental benefits, some critics dislike the noise and visual impact of wind farms containing hundreds of turbines.
The proposed "Cape Wind" project with 130 turbines in offshore waters south of Cape Cod, Mass., has been controversial because of complaints that it would interfere with pristine ocean views.
Clipper Windpower's plan is to build three manufacturing plants in the United States, one each in the West, Midwest and East. That will help the company reduce transportation costs by placing factories closer to wind farms.
Privately owned Clipper was founded in 2001 by Dehlsen, a wind-energy pioneer. The Carpinteria, Calif.-based company developed the $55 million, 44-megawatt Flying Cloud wind farm in Iowa, and did preliminary development work on another Iowa wind project that is one of the nation's largest.
Dehlsen's former company, Zond, developed the 1.5 megawatt turbine that has become the industry standard. Zond was acquired by Enron in 2000, and after Enron's implosion the company's wind business was picked up by GE Wind.
Capitalizing on the fast-developing wind-power market, GE has become one of the world's major turbine manufacturers.
After the federal production tax credit on wind energy recently was renewed, inducing a surge of new wind-farm proposals, GE landed $1.3 billion in new orders for turbines.
Dehlsen now finds himself in the ironic position of competing against the popular turbine he helped create.
Although he hasn't announced pricing for the 2.5- megawatt turbine, he expects its cost per megawatt will be slightly less than that of GE's 1.5-megawatt unit.
The GE turbines sell for $1.3 million to $1.6 million each, Dehlsen said. That indicates that Clipper's larger turbine could be priced at slightly less than $2.5 million.
Dehlsen said the Clipper machines will use sophisticated components that will make the turbines more efficient than others on the market. When the 2.5-megawatt turbine is rolled out this year, Clipper's revenues gradually will shift from wind-project development fees to sales of the turbine.
The company's big turbine is attracting plenty of attention in the industry, said Tom Gray, executive vice president of the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association.
With the dollar weak against foreign currencies, American wind-farm developers increasingly are looking to domestic turbine makers instead of European giants such as Vestas and Siemens.
"It seems likely that (the Clipper turbine) will improve the economics of wind energy," Gray said. "Any time a new turbine of that size from a new manufacturer comes to market, that's a significant event."
Staff writer Steve Raabe can be reached at 303-820-1948 or