High on a Mesa

The winds of West Texas blow reliably strong at higher elevations, but E.ON’s construction of a 55-turbine wind farm in the region, near the Anacacho mountain range, took some extra effort because of the terrain

The wind-energy industry is rapidly developing, so there are no companies that have been working in it on a utility scale for decades. But, E.ON Climate and Renewables North America, a premier owner and operator of 19 wind farms—one of the largest such fleets in the United States—has an advantage thanks to its connection to a long-established global company working in conventional and decentralized power generation, trading, and distribution. Given the complex and interconnected world of power generation and distribution, E.ON’s broader experience was of great value when it began establishing its now-sizeable wind capacity. But, building a wind farm is quite different from oil and gas exploration, so American Builders Quarterly spoke with John Badeusz, E.ON’s vice president and head of construction in North America, to understand how, where, and why the company got into its new venture.

Building a Wind Farm

According to Badeusz, E.ON undertook an extensive development process to complete Anacacho’s installation, and the conditions of the site presented special challenges. Here’s how the company got the job done:

CIMG4559_v21. Design for the electric grid 

To interconnect with the local grid, design configurations must comply with transmission-system requirements. E.ON has to make sure its substations’ equipment can carry long lead times at voltages that range between 138,000 and 345,000.

2. Hire the construction workforce

At the peak of construction, the Anacacho farm had 300 people employed on-site, including iron workers, equipment operators, electricians, mechanics, specialized technicians, and laborers. In rural west Texas, the project competed with fossil fuel operations for labor, which required contractors to bring in people from other, recently completed projects. E.ON also brought in some of its own specialized labor.

3. Build site access

Large turbines require roads on which the blades and other components can travel. Nine truckloads were required per turbine for the Anacacho job, and each was an oversize load that required special permitting and escorts. Because the wind farm is on a mesa, 400 feet above existing roadways, its huge components needed to be hauled up a steep grade, so construction teams built roads specifically for the project, occasionally blasting through bedrock. “This is far more time consuming and expensive than building roads on flat farmland in the Midwest,” Badeusz says.

4. Build turbine foundations 

E.ON then blasted even more bedrock to establish turbine foundations 8–10 feet below grade and 50 feet in diameter—enough to support 80-meter-tall structures. After that, the company assembled, connected, activated, and commissioned its turbine components.

“Since E.ON built the road infrastructure on private land, we were able to optimize the grade and utilize special large-scale hauling equipment instead of a conventional ‘over-the-road’ truck cabs,” Badeusz says. “This special hauling equipment allowed us to construct steeper roads, which were ultimately more cost effective.”

John Badeusz on …

Working in Renewable Energy

My degree in mechanical engineering provided me a solid technical background. I worked for a number of years in engineering and consulting. Later, a client recruited me to work in a start-up natural-gas-fired power-generation company. Some years later, I was asked by the leader of E.ON’s North American business to consider a switch to the renewable wind industry. Here I sit, and it’s been an exciting and rewarding transition.

Siting the Anacacho Wind Farm

To build a utility-scale wind project, E.ON goes where conditions are optimal. Kinney County, Texas, has a strong wind-power density (WPD, which factors for wind velocity and mass) due in part to the dynamics of the Anacacho mountain range, and it’s part of a state with a rich history of wind-power research.

Texas captures more wind energy than any other state, and it’s home to the Alternative Energy Institute, created in 1977 at West Texas State University. Farmers have historically used windmills to pump well water, and there are an estimated 80,000 such windmills in the state, some many decades old. And, Texas is also among the 33 states that have a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which encourages increased development of renewable energy.

It was in this climate that E.ON broke ground on the Anacacho Wind Farm in May 2012. The last of the 55 turbines was completed in December 2012—a fairly remarkable feat, given the size of the farm and some of the challenges (see “Building a Wind Farm” on p. 71).

About $200 million was spent on the development, and the land on which the turbines stand remains in use by ranchers and hunters. Farmers leasing land for wind power in Texas earn between $3,000 and $5,000 per turbine per year—sometimes more with larger turbines—and wind farms also generate millions in local taxes and salaries.

Pre-construction testing services for the Anacacho Wind Farm were provided by White Construction, a subsidiary of Infrastructure & Energy Alternatives. Formed in 2011, the company has installed more than 9,500 mW worth of renewable-energy projects in North America. Three other contractors also worked on the project: Tetra Tech Construction, which provided the civil work and turbine installation; Powerline Inc., which worked on the substation and transmission line; and Cummings, which provided underground electrical work.

E.ON installed Vestas-brand wind turbines at Anacacho, each one 80 meters tall with blades extending out 328 feet in diameter. The rated energy capacity per turbine is 1.8 mW.
E.ON installed Vestas-brand wind turbines at Anacacho, each one 80 meters tall with blades extending out 328 feet in diameter. The rated energy capacity per turbine is 1.8 mW.
In total, the Anacacho project cost E.ON $200 million. The last of the turbines went up in December 2012, just seven months after the project began in May.
In total, the Anacacho project cost E.ON $200 million. The last of the turbines went up in December 2012, just seven months after the project began in May.

A Look at the Numbers

Everything is bigger in Texas, right? Fortunately, being bigger is an advantage in wind-power generation because a small number of high-capacity turbines is less expensive to build and maintain than numerous smaller turbines that would produce an equal output. More than 25 wind farms in Texas produce 140 mW or more, and the state’s largest wind farm is the 781.5 mW Roscoe Wind Farm in Nolan County, which is also owned by E.ON. The Anacacho Wind Farm is still impressive, though, in its capacity to produce up to 100 mW of continuous energy output. Here are the Anacacho Wind Farm’s specs:

Location:
Kinney County, TX

Land area leased for use:
14,800 acres

No. of wind turbines:
55

Plant capacity:
100 mW (enough to power
more than 30,000 homes)

Rated capacity (per turbine):
1.8 mW

Wind speed to reach
rated capacity:
22-25 miles per hour

Wind turbine height:
262 feet (80 meters)

Wind turbine rotor diameter:
328 feet

Wind turbine manufacturer: 
Vestas

Wind turbine model: V100-1.8

Grid interconnection:
ERCOT, 138 kV