While our tree farms grow on millions of acres of land, we’re always looking for additional ways to do more with our resources. The first-ever wind farm on Rayonier land is providing clean energy to 10s of 1000s of families.
PUSHMATAHA COUNTY, Oklahoma—Owning millions of acres of land means millions of opportunities, and opportunity is just what our Land Resources team found on a windy ridge in Oklahoma.
Conditions at the highest altitudes in one of our Pushmataha County forests were ideal for a wind farm: the right wind strength, the open space around it, and proximity to a key electrical grid interconnection point to transport alternative power to customers.
A Vetting Process That Took Years
The team worked with an alternative energy developer, doing research to determine that this site was truly right for a large wind farm. The vetting process took years, involving testing on the site, evaluation of the interconnection point and electrical grid capacity, customer demand, environmental standards and many other factors. It was all hands on deck for the Rayonier team to support the process.
“We had the Forestry team (in Rayonier’s Antlers, OK, Resource Unit), the Land Resources team, Legal, Accounting. Just about everyone gets to play a role in these things,” says Doug Long, Rayonier’s Senior Vice President of Forest Resources.
“That’s one of the neat things about Land Resources. When you have a group of entrepreneurs looking for new things to do with our land, you’ve got to get everyone around the table to figure out how we’re going to get it done.”
Finally, work began in 2018 to build 29 turbines: 16 on our land and the rest on a neighbor’s adjacent property. In the end, tens of thousands of customers would have power while our trees surrounding the wind farm continue to grow for generations.
“It’s a milestone for Rayonier to have this first operational wind farm,” says Land Resources and Development Manager Rob Fancher. “We hope it’s the first of many projects that are going to come online in the coming years in both wind and solar.”
While owning and managing forests is something we take pride in, doing even more while the trees grow can have a massive impact on the world around us. That’s why we have a Land Resources team.
What is Rayonier’s Land Resources Team?
Now operational, the Pushmataha County wind farm is the first-ever wind farm on Rayonier land. But it’s far from the first time the Land Resources team has uncovered a means to do more with our land. The team is tasked with finding ways to provide alternative energy sources, recreational opportunities and non-timber products across more than 2 million acres of Rayonier’s forests in the U.S.
In addition to wind farm sites, the team
● Works with solar companies to identify optimal locations for solar farms on our land.
● Works with minerals companies that obtain gravel, oil, gas, mineral sands and other mineral products from the land, including some of the rock that was used for this wind project.
● The team sells the fill dirt needed to build roads and homes; pine straw for landscaping; and the right to access our land for hunting and recreation, beekeeping, cell towers and many other purposes.
● And the list goes on, with location-specific projects such as the salvage of centuries-old downed cedar logs in our Washington forests; mushroom foraging; oil and gas pipeline easements; and many others. Our Land Resources webpage has more information about the team.
Protecting the Environment During Building
The wind farm project involved a team of Rayonier employees not only in securing the lease to the energy company, but also in overseeing the work. While we are not in the business of building wind turbines, we are in the business of protecting the environment. Well-acquainted with local and national environmental guidelines as well as the high standards required by our forestry certifications, we helped the developer ensure the project went smoothly from that standpoint.
One of our greatest concerns was to protect stream crossings.
“Here in Pushmataha County, we’ve got the Black Fork Creek that runs close to the project site,” explains Business Development Manager Justin Thayer.
“There’s a federally threatened leopard darter fish that lives in some of these clear-water streams in this area. Because we’re really close to that sensitive habitat, we had to pay real close attention to make sure the project wasn’t delivering sediment or doing any damage to those streams.”
In order to protect the streams while moving turbine parts up the ridge, larger bridges and culverts had to be installed. To ensure sediment stayed far from the water, multiple best management practices (BMPs) such as ditch-outs, cross drains, erosion control barriers, grass seed and sand bags also were put in place.
A Win-Win For Clean Energy While Continuing Forestry Operations
Throughout the building process and on through today, with the wind farm in operation, we have continued our forestry operations. We’re also enjoying enhanced access to the local timber, as 25 miles of woods roads were improved as part of this project. The high altitude of the wind farm was not ideal for growing, but the forests on the mountains surrounding the wind farm are continuing to thrive and the improved roads will afford Rayonier additional opportunities to move timber in a wider range of weather conditions.
It’s what everyone on our team calls a “win-win.”
“We grow forests, a renewable resource. We’re protecting the environment, we’re protecting water, we’re protecting air. So finding ways to create energy in a clean, sustainable way fits very well with our company,” says Paul Rice, who laid the initial groundwork for the partnership. Rice is now Rayonier’s Senior Manager of Business Development on our real estate team.
Now Serving Pushmataha County
Now in operation, the wind farm is generating enough power to meet the needs of about 40,000 households.
At the ridge atop our otherwise traditional forests, each turbine towers at 345 feet tall, with blades stretching 219 feet long. At top speeds, the blades move at about 200 miles per hour.
“I’m proud to be a part of this project,” Justin says. “It really illustrates our motto, More than trees, very well.
“We’ve layered in an additional revenue stream and done something completely different for Rayonier. We’re seeing the results of thinking outside of the box.”