Chapter 3: Project Planning and Management


This section focuses on project management and planning, two elements that are essential to a successful 2-50 MW community wind project. Topics covered in this section include putting together a reliable project team and understanding risks and ways to mitigate them. The section also provides resources for creating a realistic project plan and timeline, as well as tips from experienced community wind developers.

This section builds on an excellent previous publication, “Community Wind: An Oregon Guidebook” prepared for the Energy Trust of Oregon by Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development in 2005.

Putting Together the Project Team

Community Wind Development Team = Board of Directors + Wind Energy Consultants

The first step in project management and planning is to put together a reliable project team. This team should have entrepreneurial spirit, experienced leadership, and a governance structure, as it will guide the project and provide accountability for decision-making. If this is your first wind project, the people that you and your project manager bring together can make or break your project

Project Governance

As with any multi-million dollar business venture, launching a community wind development effort requires a sound business operations structure. This includes an experienced Chief Executive Officer supported by team members, all of which are described below. If you have never presided over an enterprise of this scale, you may want to partner with a veteran project executive to help you steer through major decisions and management issues. Once your project is built, you will need to ensure ongoing oversight for maintenance monitoring, operations, and reporting on the various financial aspects of the business.

 

Bolin quoteChief Executive Officer. Developing a community wind energy project is similar to developing an ethanol plant. It takes a dedicated and diverse team to bring it into production, including a strong Chief Executive Officer and Board of Directors who will keep the project on track. The CEO should have experience in business, preferably in the energy sector, and should have a strong understanding of the wind industry and the associated risks and rewards of community wind development. The CEO is instrumental in developing relationships with potential investors and financing institutions. These are relationships that the project will depend on when capital is needed to move forward with development steps. The CEO should be savvy enough to understand when and how to exercise these relationships to ensure you meet the goals for investment share and return that you set out at the beginning of the project.

Board of Directors. The Board of Directors should be diverse, and comprised of members of the community with experience with energy, rural politics, business management, and legal issues. The Board’s job is to guide the project toward desired goals by providing input at various stages of project development and giving advice when important decisions must be made involving business planning, finance, and legal issues. Board members should be selected not only for these qualities but also for their ability to make sound business decisions that are not clouded by emotions or local politics. A strong and diverse board will help the project thwart troubles before they develop into substantial problems by drawing on their past experiences with similar endeavors and making difficult decisions when issues do arise. A strong board can also help attract equity to the project when needed because investors will have assurance that their money will be used in a responsible way.

Project Manager. An effective project manager acts as the development team leader. He or she is responsible for making sure that tasks are assigned to the proper team members and completed within the timeframe required to meet project deadlines. The project manager should be experienced in wind energy development and able to properly assess project risks and team member talents. In addition, this person is responsible for making sure team members exchange needed information in a timely manner. A project manager should communicate well, be organized, and be capable of managing all team members to ensure efficient use of resources and time.

The project manager, in many cases, will be the public face of the project, engaging community members and meeting with officials. He or she will be closely involved in the negotiations for turbine purchase, power purchase agreement, and interconnection. An understanding of business metrics, as they pertain to community wind development and local politics, is a must for a well-qualified team leader.

The project manager is often a seasoned wind developer who the project proponent hires. You may wish to hire a project manager who has developed other types of large energy projects, since the skill sets for developing community wind projects and other generation facilities are similar. The key is to hire someone that you trust, because this person will be primarily responsible for making sure that you and your investors realize your desired return on your investment.

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Key Consultants

Putting together the right team to execute community wind energy development is very important; you should consult with others who have completed similar projects to learn about their experiences with specific consultants, manufacturers, and construction companies. You need to make sure that your project’s team of consultants consists of experienced and reliable individuals with whom you have good rapport. Your project will require expertise in areas that include but are not limited to:

  • Wind resource assessment
  • Environmental impact studies
  • Interconnection design
  • Construction management
  • Foundation design
  • Legal agreements

How many experts you decide to hire for your project will depend on the Board’s experience and level of comfort – and the time the Board is willing to devote – in each of these areas. If you have little expertise in wind energy, you may want to hire experts for each of these project development aspects. Some community wind developers may feel qualified to undertake certain tasks themselves.

Wind Resource Assessment. Evaluating and documenting the wind resource at your site is one of the most important steps in the design of your project. For a commercial-scale project, you will need to conduct extensive on-site data collection and analysis. The wind data requirements to finance a 50 MW project are often substantially more rigorous than what lenders may require for a 2 MW project. Consulting a meteorologist or wind assessment professional for input on where turbines should be sited is required for some federal grants, and is recommended for sites with complex terrain. A meteorologist or site modeling specialist can confirm the best positions for the equipment and for the project’s expected output.

Environmental Impact Studies. For many community wind projects, an environmental impact assessment is required. Professional scientists can help negotiate study protocols and conduct a scientifically sound field survey. A defensible set of environmental studies is important for obtaining permits and community support. Many grants come with requirements for who needs to perform the study and what it must cover. Consulting with local, state, and federal wildlife and environmental agencies will help you to understand what expertise will be required to complete environmental impact studies.

Interconnection Design. The utility your project interconnects to will design the interconnection system for your wind project, but it may be a good idea to contract with an engineer who is independent of the utility to help design the interconnection system, ensure that the utility’s plans are within reason, and confirm that associated costs are realistic. Construction managers are often able to recommend an engineer with interconnection experience.

Construction Management. The construction manager is a critical team member, responsible for overseeing construction of the project and operating within budget and schedule constraints that may be imposed by power purchase agreements or the expiration of incentives. Ideally, you will be able to hire a local general contractor with previous experience managing wind turbine installations. If not, your turbine manufacturer should be able to recommend one or more high quality construction managers.

Foundation Design. The turbine foundation is a site-specific structure, and it must be properly designed to bear the substantial loads placed on it by the wind turbine. A civil engineer will be consulted to conduct soil tests and recommend a foundation design, or to create a new design as the case warrants. Your turbine manufacturer may be able to provide a list of engineers who have previously designed foundations for their turbines.

Legal Assistance. You will most likely have to hire multiple attorneys with different areas of expertise to see the project through to fruition. Power purchase agreements, turbine procurement, project financing, land control, and various associated contracts are specialized to the independent power industry. Some attorneys also specialize in permitting and environmental compliance. These parts of a community wind development process must meet industry standards. A community wind project is a multi-million dollar investment and it is worthwhile to consult attorneys experienced in corporate and tax law to make sure that your assets are protected should the project not perform as expected.

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Risk Management

Wind projects often have a protracted period of at-risk investment.

Until all permits, financing, and equipment are obtained, risk remains that the project will not be completed. It is therefore essential to be prepared to face and manage risks.

The right project team, including a project manager who is familiar with the associated risks, should be able to incorporate risk mitigation into a successful management plan.

Wind project development risk factors, or sources of risk, fall into three main categories:

1. Energy Production Factors

  • Wind resource
  • Equipment
  • Operations and maintenance
  • Force majeure

2. Other Revenue Factors

  • Value of energy produced
  • Tax benefit allocation
  • On-again/off-again tax subsidies
  • Transmission

3. Other Project “Make or Break” Factors

  • Permits
  • Environmental impacts
  • Public acceptance/politics
  • Site control
  • Construction

The typical sources of risk within each of these categories are described in a table available in the PDF version of this chapter, along with key tools to help manage that risk. Though all of these risks can prevent a project from coming to fruition, you may have more control over and can more easily mitigate some than others. Ratings of risk levels shown in the table illustrate how much of a factor each risk plays in the overall project plan. A one-star rating is typically easy to deal with, if you have planned appropriately. Five stars means that you have no control over this risk or that it should be evaluated early in the development process because it represents a potentially “fatal flaw” – one that can terminate a project.

Feasibility Study

To determine whether significant resources should be spent to move a project forward, it is wise to hire an outside firm to perform a feasibility study. This study will help you to better understand the market that the project is entering into, aid in developing a comprehensive business plan, and consider many of the “fatal flaw” tests up front. There are many consulting firms with experience in wind energy project development that can help to draft a portion or all of the feasibility study.

Items typically included in a feasibility study are (from James Matson and Joe Folsom, U.S.D.A.):

  • Description of the Project
  • General Setting and Need for the Project
  • Market Potential (both Current and in the Future)
  • Supply of Raw Materials and Equipment Procurement Plan
  • Supply of Labor and other Key Inputs
  • Technical Characteristics and Specifications
  • Development Schedule and Production Plan
  • Capital Requirements and Investment Schedule
  • Sales Plan and Revenue Schedule
  • Projected Operating Costs and Net Revenue
  • Schedule of New Benefits – Partial Budget
  • Economic Feasibility of Project
  • Financial Plan for Project
  • Appendices and Notes
  • Management Requirements for the Project

A project that fails a “fatal flaw” test most likely should be abandoned. Sticking with a fatally flawed project will cost a great deal of time, money and legal headaches, so it is important to know when to terminate the project development.

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Tips for Managing Community Wind Development

Project Plan and Timeline

Planning a community wind project requires juggling many processes at once and dealing with a lot of different people, agencies, and businesses. It is important to be organized during the development of your project so that critical steps are not missed. One way to make sure that you stay on top of all the necessary steps and required paperwork is to develop a detailed project plan and timeline before advancing too far along in development.

Your project plan should identify the project's team members, define the tasks that need to be completed, assign tasks to team members, determine task dependencies, and lay out the project's timeline. A good way to organize your project plan is to break it up into the typical phases of project development.

Conducting a successful equity drive

One of the key pieces to moving the project forward is to attract equity for constructing the project. The more equity you are able to raise, the less money the project will have to borrow or seek from an outside equity firm.

David Kolsrud, a farmer who has successfully developed both farmer-owned wind and ethanol facilities, suggests these 13 steps for a successful equity drive:

  1. Select an equity fund manager (if necessary)
  2. Prepare an offering circular
  3. Write a budget
  4. Identify potential investors
  5. Identify size and scope of area to hold meetings
  6. Organize and set equity meeting schedule
  7. Develop your presentation
  8. Visit and educate area lenders on the project
  9. Advertise, advertise, advertise
  10. Set up a schedule for which board members will attend and conduct the meetings
  11. Set up escrow account and agent
  12. Conduct meetings
  13. Conclude drive and continue communication with new membership

The key is persistence and having clear objectives when conducting an equity drive. Depending on the number of investors you are seeking, the number of shares you are offering and at what price, you may have to set up many meetings with potential investors. When raising funds for past projects, Mr. Kolsrud has set up three meetings a day, five days week, for several months at a time. Before setting up these meetings you should establish clearly defined goals and have performed economic feasibility analysis to justify to yourself and would-be investors that the wind project, if built, will succeed.

It is also very important to make it clear to investors, especially early investors, that there is the potential that the project might not be constructed. They should be aware of the risk involved due to the volatile nature of the wind industry and electricity markets. Addressing these risks in your business plan and offering a prospectus is a must. Researching the wind industry and market for wind energy and being realistic to investors up front will help you to manage risk much better as the project moves forward. It will also convey to your investors that you fully understand earnings potential AND loss potential and that you are developing strategies for dealing with each of them. Open and honest communication from the outset is key to developing a successful project.

Some of the steps in performing an equity drive require legal assistance, such as when you are preparing the offering, setting up the LLC, and organizing financial arrangements. You need to be clear from the outset as to what the funds will be used for as well as to whom you are marketing your wind business. Visit Windustry’s case study on the Minwind projects for an example of how projects can be structured for smaller investors.

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Conclusion

Developing a farmer-owned community wind project has many analogies to constructing an ethanol cooperative. Farmers own corn and other feed stocks that can be utilized to create bio-fuels. Communities that possess a robust wind resource have the opportunity to develop wind projects themselves or market their natural resource and be a partner in its development. Participating in an ethanol cooperative provides larger rewards than simply selling corn to a company that will in turn process the corn into ethanol and sell it at a much higher margin than the farmer is receiving for producing the raw commodity. Owning the wind turbines and directly benefiting from the sale of electricity and incentives yields a much higher return than just simply leasing land to a developer for periodic payments.

Community wind projects can be complex and may involve many different experts and stakeholders. You may have the initiative and vision to recognize an opportunity, but may not have all the skills needed to transform that vision into a reality. A reliable and experienced project team and a well defined project plan will be instrumental to the success of your wind project.

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