Soaring above tens of thousands of acres of cropland in two western Illinois counties, cleaner and greener energy has taken deep root.
Sixty wind turbines, each with blades stretching 204 feet and mounted to towers rising nearly 30 stories skyward, have commanded attention since they first began turning in March 2020, transforming wind sweeping across the landscape into 150 megawatts of valuable power.
Meet Cardinal Point Wind, a sprawling wind farm that’s testament to the zero-carbon development vision of Canada-based Capital Power, the project’s owner. And it’s symbolic of the collaboration and trust between that wholesale power generator and Black & Veatch, a global renewable energy solutions leader that stepped up to the challenge of erecting the farm.
Years in the making, from planning stages through the permitting and eventual buildout, the project positioned in a 100-square-mile area also underscores the promise of sustainability and resilience as market drivers reshape how the electric sector views the economics of renewable energy.
Completed within the projected total cost range of $236 million to $246 million, Cardinal Point Wind – Capital Power’s third such U.S. development – exemplifies that company’s quest to continue diversifying and decarbonizing its power generation mix.
Building upon the diversified energy portfolio of Capital Power – having been in the wind energy business for roughly a decade – Cardinal Point Wind stands true to the company’s mantra of delivering “Responsible Energy for Tomorrow.”
This is the story of how it came to be.
Amid the Challenges, ‘Seizing the Opportunity’
Before Cardinal Point Wind, Black & Veatch had never built an onshore wind farm – generally, an undertaking just as massive as the General Electric turbines themselves, belying their serene appearance. But having long worked shoulder to shoulder with Black & Veatch on other conventional power projects, Capital Power believed that company with deep expertise in renewable energy solutions – and the benefits of integrated design, engineering and construction experts under one roof –was the perfect fit.
“A wind farm (engineering, procurement and construction), from the sidelines, looks relatively easy – 60 of the same things being erected in a relatively open area,” said Steve Owens, Capital Power’s Vice President of Construction, Pre-operations and Supply Chain Management. “It’s easy to underestimate the complexity of the work.”
But Owens found Black & Veatch to be nimble, receptive and responsive to Capital Power’s input and quick to summon the physical and deep-thinking, problem-solving resources needed to muscle through.
“It's our style to be collaborative that way,” Owens said.
What proved invaluable was Black & Veatch’s integration of engineering, construction and consultation along the way about everything from underground electrical system design to transportation logistics planning.
Black & Veatch engineers involved in the project’s design phase “actually came out to site and then started managing the construction, and I think that’s the first time that we’ve seen that level of integration,” said Sandy Fleming, the Senior Manager of Development Engineering and Pre-construction for Capital Power.
Black & Veatch team members “were seizing the opportunity.” That commitment proved key, given the challenges that would play out.
When civil engineering work was to begin in the early months of 2019, the weather was what could be expected in the Midwest that time of year. Persistent rains turned the farmland into a muddy slog, slowing efforts to build entry and access roads to the eventual turbine sites and for a long stretch keeping the team from getting on site.
But Black & Veatch, without sacrificing safety or quality, made up that lost time, readying the sites by that summer just in time for specialized equipment delivery vehicles to work their way down narrow, one-way roads, hauling in the large turbine sections for assembly.
“There's a number of (Black & Veatch professionals) that stepped up and really made the difference in terms of getting through those challenging times,” Fleming said. “Despite the challenges, the team stayed on-site and worked hard to come up with a way to get through it.”
Building the Perfect Turbine
Think of erecting wind turbines – most of them 2.8 megawatts – as piecing together monstrous erector sets, their components hauled in and carefully staged at each of the five dozen foundations.
Some sub-assembly took place on the ground before crews would set the tower’s base section and add the mid-piece, all of it moved into place by a crane weighing hundreds of tons. The rotor was built on the ground, joining the three blades.
Crews and cranes then moved down the road to the next site and did it all over again. Then again and again.
The “top-out” workers then went to work, using a larger crane to install the tower’s two highest sections, then mount the structure’s nacelle – the “machine head” that houses the drive train and other components. That big boxlike piece sits 300 feet in the air, atop a yaw bearing, allowing it to rotate as the wind direction changes. The rotor, already built on the ground, goes on as the final puzzle piece.
From the construction start to finish, the work was done in concert from one turbine site to the next – no small feat in light of the disparate locations of the towers on non-contiguous parcels of land, requiring more time and planning to choreograph it all.
Illinois’ notoriously harsh winter weather didn’t help at times, forcing workers – sweaty after climbing hundreds of feet into the air – to do their job at times in sub-freezing conditions, the wind whipping.
Through it all, there were no serious injuries – testament to time-tested, rigorous safety cultures at Capital Power and Black & Veatch.
Community Outreach and Local Goodwill
For many in Illinois’ McDonough County – with roughly 33,000 residents, now home to most of the Cardinal Point Wind turbines – the project proved to be a curiosity.
The sheriff frequently came out to the work sites, spending time chatting with workers and watching the progress. Other locals did the same, watching in awe as the turbines were pieced together and rose skyward.
While curious about the engineering and construction feat, residents also understood and witnessed the project’s local benefits. Property owners are getting an ongoing revenue stream through land lease agreements that allow for the space for each turbine. During the work, crews frequented nearby diners, and supplies and services often were sourced locally.
Capital Power also supported community organizations – everything from fundraiser walks to the Warren County Prime Beef Festival, a Monmouth police force “Shop With a Cop” benefit and the “Good Hope Turkey Trot.”
Charitable involvement meant to leave a lasting presence, just like wind turbines lining the area’s horizon now.
“It’s hard to tuck those off into a corner where nobody’s going to see. They’re there for everybody to see, 24 hours a day, and it’s a reminder that Capital Power is part of the community,” Owens said. “We have to play a role in the community, in being good neighbors by providing opportunity and contributing tax dollars, helping with fundraisers or interfacing with community schools.”
Mission Complete: Taking Stock
While the turbines make their circular sweep, few remnants of the process that put them there are evident.
As the blades churn, there’s lingering pride, both by Capital Power for the investment in generating power with what nature gives them and by Black & Veatch, a century-old company now versed in building a wind farm from start to finish.
“We came out of it with an EPC team and solution that we can apply to any other project, knowing that the industry is evolving and there’s going to be a lot more wind turbine projects in the future,” said Jason Schottler, Black & Veatch’s project director. “What excites me is that we’ve really grown our capabilities here. It wasn’t easy, but we put a lot into this, and we call it an investment.”
Owens was resolute in Capital Power’s satisfaction with the workmanship.
“When the going got tough, we fully expected Black & Veatch to stand behind their project and make sure it came in on time and on budget, and that’s exactly what happened,” Owens said. “But at the end of the day, I guess what it comes down to is Black & Veatch earned the right to be on this job. We got a contractor with an excellent safety record and one that we could trust to get the job done, and that’s why we partnered with Black & Veatch and will continue to do so in the future.
“It’s always a proud moment when both parties can walk away from a successful project and say, `You know what, we did this together. We did it because were willing to work together to make the right decisions to get the job done.’ And you don’t get the opportunity to do that too often.”