340-foot windmill at Anheuser-Busch

FAIRFIELD -- Supplementing utility power according to the on-site renewable distributed energy generation model is a growing trend in the private sector, evidenced by the new 340-foot tall wind turbine at the Anheuser-Busch brewery off Interstate 80.

[caption id="attachment_56139" align="alignleft" width="325" caption="Anheuser-Busch Fairfield plant wind turbine rises 340 feet."][/caption]

The turbine generates 1,500 kilowatts of electricity, or 3,500 megawatt hours per year -- 20 percent of the facility’s total electricity needs -- enough power to produce 25,000 cases of beer per day.

This clean renewable source provides sufficient energy to power 399 homes, with a carbon offset benefit of 3,003 tons per year.

The 700,000 square foot Anheuser-Busch plant produces 4.4 million barrels of beer annually, or 136 million gallons. It will utilize 100 percent of the wind energy generated and will not route power back to the grid. However, the turbine’s electrical system operates with a parallel interconnect to the grid enabling the brewery to use both power sources as needed.

According to Plant General Manager Kevin Finger, “This is the first wind turbine at an Anheuser-Busch In-Bev location and also the first at a brewery in the U.S.”

The $6 million dollar project utilizes a General Electric SLE 1.5 megawatt turbine -- equivalent to $4 per watt of generating capacity. This turbine went into service with no up front investment from the Budweiser plant.

Anheuser-Busch partnered with Foundation Windpower, LLC, located at 505 Sansome Street in San Francisco, the firm that developed the project, provided equipment, construction financing and long-term maintenance.

Foundation Windpower owns and operates the system under terms of a 20-year site lease ($1 a year for a 50-by-50-foot plot of land) and a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA) with Anheuser-Busch that is back-end weighted.

The company estimates that it will take at least five to six years to realize payback on its investment and more to receive a financial return. Foundation Windpower has five turbines currently in operation at various locations and another 11 under construction statewide that will be operating by the end of 2012.

The power purchase agreement can be extended for two or three five-year increments. Or, the agreement can be renegotiated to repower the equipment and upgrade the nacelle (the generator structure behind the blades), or the turbine can be sold to the brewery at fair market value under terms of a modified, accelerated cost recovery system. Another option would be to decommission the turbine.    

From 1970 to 2008, the cost of electric power increased an average of 5.9 percent a year, and industry experts expect at least that rate of growth into the future.   

“While rate hikes have slowed somewhat in recent times, it is more economical to lock in energy costs at today’s low prices, and obtain long-term predictability, than to face volatile electricity prices in the future for grid delivered power,” said John Pimentel, president of Foundation Windpower. “Renewable energy is the ultimate hedge against public power rate increases.”

He believes that the energy security of the U.S., and the environmental benefit for the planet as a whole, will require continuous investment, innovations and risk taking by the private sector.

Savings associated with wind turbines can range from 5 to 20 percent, depending on local wind conditions, the type of turbine used and the power curve efficiency of the turbine to convert wind to electricity.

The turbine at the Budweiser plant can operate in higher winds during the peak season from April to October as well as utilize average wind speeds of 13.6 mph at other times of the year.

State and federal incentives are also available to recover some of the typical costs associated with wind power installations.

Gov. Jerry Brown has set a goal to have 12 gigawatts of clean distributed energy generation capacity (33 percent as renewable energy) within the local power grid by 2020, by using rooftop solar panels, small wind turbines and fuel cells.

A state rebate remains in effect until 2014 for renewable and distributed power (power not produced in a central plant saving transmission, network and related expense).

A 30 percent federal tax credit, enacted in 2009 is available, however, this credit expires at the end of 2012 for wind power -- but not for solar.

The American Wind Power Association and the Distributed Wind Energy Association are lobbying Congress to extend this tax credit.

Nationwide, Anheuser-Busch is the largest operator of BERS (bio-energy recovery systems) turning nutrients from wastewater reclaimed from the brewing process into renewable biogas.

This process is used at the Fairfield plant where it has replaced about 15 percent of its natural gas use with methane.

The brewery also obtains 4 percent of its electricity each year from 6,500 solar panels installed over a 6.5-acre area.

“In addition, we are recovering steam used to heat boilers in the brew house and have installed more efficient boiler burners, energy saving air compressors and more economical lighting systems with timers to further reduce costs,” Mr. Finger said.

“When the external conditions are right, we’ll have the capacity to produce up to 50 percent of our brewery’s electricity needs via wind and solar power.”

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