It’s rare that a businessman in the windmill industry finds himself being stopped by random tourists, asking him for an autograph and if they can have their picture taken with him. But that is nonetheless what Niels Jacobsen experiences when he visits the northern Philippine district of Ilocos Norte, where his new windmill park has revolutionized the power supply for over 500,000 people.
So far the 87 million people living on the Philippines’ more than 7100 islands have been supplied with power from diesel-, coal-, or gas-plants in the capitol of Manila (the smaller islands getting their supply from decentralized diesel engines). Needless to say, this centralization has made the power supply to the country’s most remote regions very unreliable.
With the new windmill park in the Bangui Bay, Niels Jacobsen’s energy company, Northwind Power Development Corporation, now produces 40% of Ilocos Norte’s power – distributed by the local power company, INEC (Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative). At the same time, the price for electricity has dropped 3% for the inhabitants in this province, and thousands of households will now be able to receive 220 volts (instead of only 160 volts as earlier), thus being able to install more power-demanding instruments such as refrigerators and freezers.
Windmills with military protection
The popularity of the windmill park is not, however, limited to the north. When the Philippines’ new Secretary of Energy cut the ribbon in front of a crowd exceeding 500 people at the inauguration on June 18, thousands of viewers were following the event across the country via the live television coverage. These pictures have since been re-run numerous times, and every major Philippine newspaper has filled columns with news about the “new national symbol of pride”.
The hype doesn’t surprise Niels Jacobsen, though, who has lived in the Philippines since 1993. He has previously worked on energy projects in several African countries, as well as in Saudi Arabia and Macau.
“Things have gone exactly like we had hoped for. When we started the project five years ago, we put a lot of emphasis on the aesthetics and on the tourist potential, so the local community could benefit even more from the presence of the windmills,” says Niels Jacobsen, who started Northwind in the year 2000.
“I think the people from Vestas shook their heads at me, when I insisted that the 15 mills should be placed in a perfect circular line with millimeter precision. It took quite some time and thoroughness to mark the positions, but today everyone can see it was worth it,” says Niels Jacobsen.
In the surrounding area surrounding, the ever-smiling locals have opened small kiosks, selling t-shirts and cups with windmills on them and the proud proclamation of the host community “Bangui Bay”. And Southeast Asia’s first windmill park is surely well-protected. The Philippine authorities regards the protection of the 15 windmills as a matter of national interest, and thus they have opened a small military base a few kilometers from the windmill park – with the purpose of keeping an eye out for suspicious planes or ships.
The hope is blowing in the wind
To windmill-weary Danes, it may sound strange that an entire province – even a whole nation – can get so fired up about a windmill park. Through many years, Ilocos Norte has been known as a poor area, and to them the windmill is a new-found wonder, suddenly giving them a feeling of being rich on natural resources. The reason that the rest of the Philippines have joined them under the banners of pride has more to do with national recognition.
“For many years we have had a dream to become the leading wind power producer in Southeast Asia, and with the Northwind Power project we have now realized that dream,” explains the now former Secretary of Energy in the Philippines, Mr. Vince Perez, who during his time in office from 2001 to April 2005 passionately supported the project.
“The wind swept shores of Bangui now makes the Philippines a regional leader in renewable energy. With the first turn of the wind turbines of Northwind Power, our country took a giant step towards energy independence. It has given many Philippinos a hope that they do not have to remain poor, if we can just harness our natural resources better,” says Vince Perez, who is very grateful for the Danish expertise in this area.
Niels Jacobsen conceived the idea for the project in connection with his previous work in the Philippines in the 1990s for companies like Burmeister & Wain. In 1999, he contacted Danida, who immediately supported him to go ahead with the project.
“They could see the project’s development potential and were incredibly helpful from the first telephone call,” says Niels Jacobsen, who then started Northwind and initiated the project.
With financial support from Danida through the so-called Mixed Credits scheme, Northwind was able to take out an interest-free loan from Nordea and ABN Amro. In November 2003, Northwind signed a turnkey contract with the former NEC Micon (shortly after it became a part of Vestas) to deliver and install the 15 windmills on the shoreline of the Bangui Bay. The contract had a value of about USD 30 million (approx. DKK 184 million) and the rest of the project cost about USD 10 million (approx. DKK 62 million). With the finances taken care of, the windmill production got underway in Denmark throughout the summer of 2004.
The great challenge for both Northwind and Vestas was the previously untried location: A semi-offshore spot by the tropical South China Sea – an area often exposed to typhoons, flooding, and minor earthquakes. This environment set some quite different demands for the foundations of the windmills.
“It’s not like erecting a windmill on a field in Thy [in the north of Denmark], so Vestas allied themselves with a Japanese subcontractor, Sumitomo. They had quite a lot of experience in building foundations that can resist the forces of nature on this side of the planet,” explains Niels Jacobsen.
Northwind has leased 9 kilometers of shoreline, however the 15 windmills stand with precisely 326 meters between them and only really take up half of that stretch. That leaves plenty of room for the extra five mills, which Northwind expects to erect at a later stage. Each windmill is 70 meters tall (equivalent to a 23 story building) and has a 1,5 meter thick foundation with a diameter of 17 meters. This foundation is further supported by eight pillars, drilled 12 meters into the ground.
Since each wing has a length of 41 meters, it was clear to both Northwind and Vestas that they could not drive the windmill parts to the site. There was no way that the roads from the nearest port would be suitable to transport equipment which is only 9 meters short of an Olympic sized pool. Thus, they had to sail all the equipment all the way in to the beach, which meant that Vestas had to build a landing ramp that could receive the so-called Landing Craft Carriers (with the same design as those used on the beaches of Normandy in 1994).
But while the ship loaded with Vestas’ windmills was making its way down from Denmark towards the Philippines in October, the landing ramp was washed away by the strong waves that are known to haunt the shores at Bangui Bay during the fall season. That delayed the project a few months, but when the mild spring season arrived, all the nacelles, the wings, and the rotors could finally be delivered on the beach – all of it built in Denmark with the exception of the towers, which were built in Vietnam. The first mill was erected on March 12, after which the rest went up with a few days in between.
Can’t get enough
Northwind has built a control center of 200 square meters just a few stone throws away from the beach, where three men will be handling the daily responsibilities at the site. The contract with Vestas includes a five year mechanical maintenance of the mills, and thus Vestas also has a man employed on site.
Each windmill generates on 600 volts, which is supplied from the control center. Like the windmills, the control center is built to resist flooding and rough weather conditions. If a powerful typhoon should cause the power lines in the area to fall out, then the self-provision of the mills switches to a diesel engine.
The highest ever measured wind speed in the Bangui Bay is 43 meters per second, but Northwind’s new windmills are built to resist 70 meters per second. The mills automatically turn to face the direction of the wind, but the wings will stop rotating if the wind reaches a speed of 20 meters per second.
The first power was sent out into the system on April 13, where the mild wind conditions of the season enabled it to send approximately 1,65 MW out to the buyer, INEC. On a good day with 13-14 meters per second, the windmill park will reach its full capacity at 25 MW. From the Northwind windmill park the power is led via a 60 kilometer supply line to the provincial capitol of Laoag, from where INEC then distributes it on to the many users.
“I am incredibly happy and enormously proud. But it doesn’t dawn on me how big this project has been until I look back and have people ask me how this could be done. No one in the Philippines knew about the phenomenon of windmills, so at first it was an uphill effort to explain the idea to the authorities and to people from the energy industry. But now they can’t get enough windmills. We have already chosen the location for Northwind’s next windmill park,” says Niels Jacobsen.