Renewable and alternative energy projects took center stage in ENR Midwest’s Top Starts list, which ranks the 50 largest projects to break ground in 2017. Natural gas pipelines and hydropower transmission projects promise a sustainable future for the region. A second consecutive year of major growth in wind farms showed that the energy infrastructure focus isn’t waning and some major university investments showed how some of that energy will be used.

MidAmerican Energy plans to install $3.6 billion worth of wind turbines in Iowa by the end of 2019. The most recent project, Wind XI, marks the largest economic development project in the state’s history. The company’s 170-MW Beaver Creek wind project in Boone and Greene counties has 85 turbines and started service at the end of 2017, while the 168-MW Prairie wind project in Mahaska County has 84 turbines and began producing energy in January.

Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources started service on its $130-million Cottonwood Wind Farm with 52 turbines in November of 2017. The wind farm’s capacity could generate up to 89.7 MW, or enough energy for 29,000 Nebraskans. In Allen, Neb., Tradewind Energy’s 200-MW Rattlesnake Creek Wind Farm has 101 turbines and is expected to be operational by the end of the year. Facebook will purchase 100% of the power for its new data center in nearby Papillion.

Other wind farms include the Quilt Block Wind Farm in Dane County, Wis., and the Walnut Ridge Wind Farm in Bureau County, Ill. Quilt Block will generate up to 98 MW, enough to power approximately 37,000 homes each year. The $167-million investment by Texas-based EDP Renewables included 49 turbines; construction was completed in November. Walnut Ridge Wind Farm is a $315-million, 210-MW project by Geronimo Energy being built in Ohio, Walnut and Greenville townships in Illinois. It will generate power from anywhere between 91 and 132 turbines (the final number will depend on several construction factors) and is expected to be in service in 2019.

ENR Midwest 2017 Top Starts

Natural Gas Extends Its Reach

TransCanada’s Leach XPress natural gas project has more than 160 miles of 36-in.-dia natural gas pipeline along the jagged borders of southeastern Ohio and West Virginia. The $1.5-billion investment transports 1.5 billion cu ft of natural gas from the Appalachian supply basin to Ohio, West Virginia and other previously unreachable markets. LXP was placed into service in January, and its three compressor facilities amplify the distribution potential of other existing TransCanada lines.

“By adding compression to our system, we’re able to move more natural gas through our existing lines,” says Lindsey Fought, a spokeswoman for TransCanada. “Via an existing interconnect with TransCanada’s Columbia Gulf Transmission System and our Rayne XPress project, LXP will facilitate the delivery of up to an additional 1 billion cu ft per day to Southeast and Gulf Coast supply markets.”

The Rover Pipeline is a 713-mile, $3.35-billion natural gas pipeline that Energy Transfer Partners broke ground on in early 2017. It is expected to transport a staggering 3.25 billion cu ft per day. Rover will gather natural gas from 12 drilling locations and from processing plants in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania (from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations) and transport it to pipeline interconnects in West Virginia and eastern Ohio. From Energy Transfer’s Midwest Hub near Defiance, Ohio, up to 68% of its gas will be delivered for distribution to other U.S. markets and the Union Gas Dawn Storage Hub in Ontario, Canada.

The rest of Rover’s capacity will stay in Ohio and the surrounding region. Rover is 99% complete, and it is expected to have all branches in service by June. However, its construction has put Energy Transfer at odds with environmental regulators. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency cited Rover for spilling more than 2 million gallons of drilling mud contaminated with diesel fuel into a wetland in April. In November, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit asking “whether [the company’s] actions [and failures to act] stem from a series of calculated business decisions or complete indifference to Ohio’s regulatory efforts.” The suit also alleges that the firm endangered the environment in more than 10 counties. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a four-month stop on drilling along certain sections of the pipeline; that order was lifted in September. Just this week, West Virginia issued another stop work order.

Hydroelectric power is on the move, too. The Great Northern Transmission Line began construction in early 2017. Phase one of the grid modernization project will deliver hydropower generated by Manitoba Hydro to Minnesota Power customers and others throughout the region. It will consist of a 500-kv transmission line from the Minnesota-Manitoba border to the Iron Range’s substation near Grand Rapids, Minn., as well as associated substation and transmission systems modifications. A June 2020 in-service date is expected.

Education Investments

The actual buildings on the 2017 starts list include a healthy share of campus upgrades and reconstruction. Washington University in St. Louis is transforming the east end of its Danforth campus. The two-year, $280-million project includes eight major components: three new academic buildings, an expansion of its art museum, two new multi-use facilities, an underground parking garage and a reconfiguration of the campus green into an even bigger park.

“It’s the largest capital investment ever on the Danforth campus and encompasses 18 acres,” says Jamie Kolker, associate vice chancellor and university architect. “The open spaces will serve the needs of students, faculty, staff and visitors, and foster multidisciplinary collaborations among schools and departments.”

All new buildings on the east end have been designed to achieve LEED-Gold certification. Many of the buildings’ roofs will contain photovoltaic arrays and high-efficiency heat recovery chillers that are designed to harvest waste heat for much of the buildings’ heating needs. The underground garage will be covered entirely by the new park, and green roofs are planned for many of the structures.

A recurring theme across the region was a desire to provide a sustainable future. That applies to infrastructure projects that create or transport energy and the institutions that use it to power their facilities. Data centers from Facebook, Amazon and others had companion electrical generation projects.