Alva Review-Courier -

Sundance Wind Energy Center to be operational by end of year

 

January 23, 2020

Kathleen Lourde

Demi Gastouniotis stops by the Alva Review-Courier office to talk about Invenergy's wind energy project. The turbines will be placed on land between Waynoka and Aline.

Demi Gastouniotis, 25, has various titles but they all boil down to the same thing: she's the boots on the ground for getting the Sundance Wind Energy Center up and running. The center, and the turbines that link to it, will be located between Waynoka and Aline, and along the Aline Road.

Gastouniotis is a project developer with Invenergy, a fast-growing renewable energy company based in Chicago with wind, solar and natural gas projects all over the world.

As a project developer, "we prospect projects by understanding what the resources are like," Gastouniotis said.

For example, Invenergy spends two years studying the local avian flight paths and other local wildlife behaviors, as well as measuring wind speeds in different places, to identify the best and safest place to locate a new project.

Once a project has been settled on, "developers go out and start to work with the community to bring awareness to the project," she said. "We do land acquisitions in the area – work with landowners and sign them onto the project; work with county commissioners and school superintendents" so that all the major stakeholders know how the wind energy center will affect them.

"A lot of landowners have welcomed me into their homes, given me dinner – it's a very, very kind community," Gastouniotis said.

She will work out of the Alva Invenergy office on College Avenue and out of Invenergy's regional office in Denver. For the next year, she said, she'll be spending two to four days a week here, bedding down at a local hotel. Local Vanna Fuqua already staffs the Invenergy office in Alva.

Once the Sundance center is built, the office will move there.

Sundance Wind Energy Center

The center, once operational, is expected to generate enough power for 55,000 homes; create emissions reductions equal to taking 65,000 cars off the road; and pony up more than $307 million in capital investment.

For this project, that initial research into avian flight paths and wind speeds was done by a renewable energy company called TradeWind Energy, who originally owned the project. Invenergy acquired the Sundance project in April 2019.

Construction on Sundance Wind Energy Center will begin this summer.

The project will use 2.3 and 2.8 megawatt state-of-the art wind turbines manufactured by GE.

Each turbine, once installed, will consist of a concrete pad 60 feet in diameter and a road leading to the pad. "Farmers can farm right up to that road," said Gastouniotis.

How a wind turbine collects energy seems simple enough on paper. Wind turns the propeller-like blades of the turbine around a rotor.

"We tell people and landowners that what you hear is essentially the sound of your fridge running," said Gastouniotis.

The rotor is connected to the main shaft, which spins a generator to create electricity.

"A collection line runs from the turbine back to our substation (the Sundance center), which is central to all the turbines of the project. From there, an above-ground transmission line runs to a substation that's owned by the local utility."

(The "local utility" is Tulsa-based Public Service Company of Oklahoma, or PSO. People living in northwest Oklahoma will not be using energy created by the Sundance project.)

Construction on the Sundance Wind Energy Center will begin this summer, and it is scheduled to be fully operational in the fourth quarter of 2020. "We have to get everything online by the end of the year," she said.

Invenergy will operate the Sundance Wind Energy Center for 10 years, and expects to produce enough energy to power 55,000 homes over the ten years.

"Eventually we will sell the project to the parent company of PSO," Gastouniotis said.

An Opportunity for Cutting-Edge Jobs

Construction of the Sundance center, which will be done through a third party contractor, will employ about 150 workers. Construction will begin this summer; to apply for those jobs, keep an eye on the Newsgram. The construction contractors haven't been announced yet.

Invenergy will also be hiring six staff people – wind technicians, an operations manager, and people to work in the office. Wind technicians in particular have well paid jobs – $54,370 per year on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"That range would be comparable here as well," said Erika Huffman with Schnake Turnbo Frank, an Oklahoma City-based public relations firm working with Invenergy.

"We will start looking for people this year," said Gastouniotis, who recommended visiting the Invenergy website's career page, where she said those jobs would be posted.

"Once we have a site manager here at the project site, that's the best time" to start applying for the Invenergy jobs, she said.

Invenergy: Quality Organization, Good Neighbor

Invenergy appears to be a highly respected renewable energy company that is growing by leaps and bounds. The company has 145 solar, wind, and natural gas projects around the world, and they've received several awards, including the American Wind Energy Association's "Excellence in Operations" award in 2019, and Oracle's "Sustainability Innovation Award" in 2017.

Being a good neighbor is an important part of the company's approach to its projects.

"We work closely with veteran organizations," said Gastouniotis. "It's part of an initiative to make ourselves present in the community. So we'll work closely with any organization, especially with schools, like FFA clubs."

Invenergy's FFA National Sponsorship is a three-year $50,000 annual commitment. The money supports the Blue Jacket Program, career and leadership development events and helped fund efforts to build out the FFA national alumni network, according to Huffman.

Invenergy is also an ad valorem taxpayer, said Gastouniotis, although for this project PSO will be the ad valorem taxpayer. All state tax incentives have "totally sunset," she said, so they'll be paying their full share of ad valorem tax, critical for local schools.

Gastouniotis: 'Lucky' to Be in Vanguard of New Industry

It's a lot of responsibility for a 25-year-old, and Gastouniotis is very aware of how lucky she is.

Getting in on the ground floor of a new industry – like "green" energy – has been the way many a person found themselves rising faster in the world than they'd expected. Gastouniotis considers herself incredibly fortunate to have found herself in just such a situation.

She sort of just happened into it while studying in Iceland for a year during her college years. "Iceland is, I think, 95 percent renewable energy now."

She was mostly drawn to Iceland because of the country's stunning beauty, she said, but she spent her time there studying renewable energy and the economics of renewable energy.

"I mean, I was seeing an entire country run on it, an absolute success story. I came back and I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do."

Gastouniotis' dad worked for Exxon for 26 years and then in nuclear energy in the Chicagoland area. He always thought his son would be the one to take after him, but his son had other ideas.

Over Christmas, Gastouniotis said, her father had a sudden realization.

"He's very supportive of the energy industry as a whole, but think about a person who has never thought about renewables because he was in a different part of the industry all of his life, and all of a sudden he's like, 'Wow! You really take after me!' and I'm like, 'Yeah, I sure did!' It definitely runs in the family," she said, laughing.

Her parents have never spent much time in Oklahoma and, so, don't really understand exactly what she does here for fun.

Gastouniotis, on the other hand, has fallen in love with Oklahoma, she said, and she has the brand-spanking-new cowboy boots and hat to prove it. "All I listen to is country music now," she said, laughing.

She'd like to find some friends to do fun stuff with, she said as she was leaving the newspaper office after the end of the interview. "I have been known to go to movies," she said, grinning. "But I haven't been here, yet."

She also loves the outdoors, she said, adding that she was looking forward to hitting the dunes out at Little Sahara. "It's on my list!"

 

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