Coronavirus hasn’t slowed construction progress at Russia’s Arctic wind farm

wind turbine thinkstock Credit: Thinkstock

The cornavirus pandemic may have slowed renewable energy projects worldwide – but the first industrial scale wind park above the Arctic Circle, near Murmansk, seems to have evaded the sluggishness that struck other sectors of the green economy.

The wind farm has been a long time coming. As far back as the 1990s, the Kola Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences conducted feasibility studies. Environmental organizations began to coalesce around the notion of Far North Russian wind power in the early 2000s.

Bellona, in particular, worked in close collaboration with the scientists at the Kola Scientific Center, and in 2007 the organization published a report assessing wind energy’s potential on the Kola Peninsula, Russia’s chilly northwestern region bordering Scandinavia.

Yury Sergeyev, who heads up renewable energy and electric mobility projects for Bellona’s Murmansk office, the seeds for the wind farm project were planted in 2001.

In his telling, getting the wind farm to the construction stage was a long and winding road. Four different Murmansk regional governors tried to advance the project, but it was hampered by various legislative restrictions. In 2008, an interagency commission approve the idea of building the wind farm near the Arctic villages of Tumanny and Teriberka, but project owners and developers came and went.

Finally, in 2017 Carlo Palashano, the then-general director of Enel Russia, announced his company had won the bid to build the wind park. Since then, a 201 megawatt, 57-turbine wind plant has been under construction near Teriberka. It’s expected to be commissioned in December 2021.

The ceremonial first stone was laid last September. But by May, the coronavirus pandemic had hit, and with it the very real possibility of delays. In China, lockdowns threatened to reduce turbine output, putting the wind energy industry on the back foot. According to figures from the Renewable Energy Development Association, turbine production will likely fall by 30 percent before the end of this year.

But Enel Russia’s press service says the company hasn’t been hit by any significant delays because of the pandemic.

Still, the company issued a statement saying that it “does not exclude the possibility” that movement restrictions and social distancing measures could “create a number of risks” associated with the wind farm’s construction.

Enel Russia emphasized that construction work at the wind facility has continued and is on schedule.

“At the moment, the construction of temporary roads has been completed, which will greatly facilitate the delivery of necessary equipment and materials to the construction site,” Enel Russia’s statement said. “The construction camp has been erected, significant progress has been made in preparatory work and excavation, aiding the construction of foundations; blasting operations are also underway, which are also necessary for foundation construction. Some elements of metal structures and building materials for the wind farm have already been delivered to the construction site.”

Upon its completion, the wind farm will plug into the Russian national grid. For this purpose, Enel Russia will build a 70 kilometer power line with a 150 kV capacity. Russia’s federal grid operator will, in turn, prep the Murmansk substation with a high voltage line running to the national grid.

Bellona’s Sergeyev, said the wind farm will be the largest Russia has built above the Arctic circle.

“The wind potential of the Murmansk region is one of the best in Russia, but the extraction of this potential is associated with a harsh climate, its remoteness from routes, and a number of other technical difficulties,” Sergeyev says. “If in this harsh environment, a wind farm of this capacity can work, then it will be easier for regions with more favorable conditions to decide to become more involved in the Russian wind energy market. And the Murmansk region will have a unique green energy facility and take a small step toward a carbon-neutral future.”