Bringing Amadeus Wind to West Texas
BayWa r.e. Wind LLC was able to successfully build the 250-MW Amadeus wind project this year, meeting the challenges of carrying on construction in a time of COVID-19.
By Paul MacDonald
There's no doubt that Texas is a leader in wind power projects—the state continues to be the largest wind power producer among all U.S. states.
If Texas were a country, it would be the fifth-largest wind power producer in the world. In the third quarter of 2020 alone, the state installed some 687 MW of new wind power. That means Texas now has more than 30,000 MW of wind power (30,904 MW, to be exact).
BayWa r.e. Wind LLC is adding to that total this year with its 250-MW Amadeus Wind project located near the town of Rotan, northwest of Abilene, in West Texas.
The Amadeus project will deploy GE wind turbines across nearly 25,000 acres of privately held lands and generate enough clean, renewable energy to power more than 75,000 homes annually.
Taking on building a wind power project during a pandemic is no easy feat—there were challenges to overcome, including financing. That said, earlier this year, in the most difficult market since the financial crisis of 2008, BayWa r.e. was able to close on a construction loan with Commerzbank. There were construction challenges, as well.
But deciding to locate your wind project in Texas reduces hurdles from the get-go. "There is a reason the Lone Star State has the most installed wind capacity in the U.S.," says Daniel Duke, BayWa r.e. Wind's vice president of development. "There is a clear understanding at the state and local levels of the many benefits that come when you welcome the wind industry with open arms," he said. "The town of Rotan welcomed our Amadeus wind project in the same way.
"We have always felt at home in Texas," Duke added. "Our first wind project was built in Snyder, Texas, 13 years ago, and ever since then, we have continued to invest in Texas and its local communities.
"We completed the nearby 30-MW Mozart Wind Project in 2012 in Kent and Stonewall Counties. The local communities and landowners understood not only that we have a strong commitment to delivering high-quality projects with local benefits, but that we can execute on that commitment."
So this part of Texas is very familiar to BayWa r.e. The company actually started development of the Amadeus project during construction of the Snyder project, which with its 105-meter hub height, held the record for being the tallest wind project for a decade.
"Our landowners at the Snyder wind project, which we built in 2007, actually introduced us to their relatives, who are the landowners of our Mozart and Amadeus wind projects," explained Florian Zerhusen, CEO of BayWa r.e. Wind.
"Due to the drop in gas prices, we decided to slowly advance the development of the project," he added.
In 2012, they built the first phase, the 30-MW Mozart project, to capture the federal Section 1603 cash grant. With gas prices slowly recovering since—and the PTC phase-out looming—the company decided to finalize development and construct the main 250-MW Amadeus wind project in 2020.
BayWa r.e. had been collecting wind data in the area for over a decade with a mix of 100-meter and 80-meter meteorological data collection towers, as well as multiple Triton SODAR locations. Local landowners have been supportive and helpful during the entire wind measurement campaign, reports the company.
The data reinforced that they had solid wind conditions to work with at the location.
"The wind is typical for Texas, with strong wind speeds that flow primarily from the south, which works particularly well for placing wind turbines on plateaus and ridges that make up the topography at the Amadeus project," says Rolf Miller, resource manager at BayWa r.e. Wind.
The diurnal and seasonal shape of the wind makes it especially attractive for the power market. A broad range of atmospheric variables were analyzed, and two turbine models from GE were selected, which look to be an ideal fit for the wind regime, maximizing energy production for the site, says the company.
"The combination of a strong wind resource, with turbines sited on land with great exposure, makes Amadeus a terrific wind power project," added Miller.
BayWa r.e.'s proven track record on the Mozart Project greatly assisted in the development phase of the much larger Amadeus Wind Project, particularly when it came to securing various entitlements and approvals. The company says the challenges on the project were related to the larger scale of the development, which increased awareness on certain issues that are driven by the scale of a wind project—such as impacts to sensitive resources, aviation flight paths, or ongoing local ranching operations.
Local and state tax abatements and the financial outlay of the project also carried more weight, given the project's scale.
BayWa r.e. notes that a larger project also delivers larger benefits to this region of West Texas, including tens of millions of dollars in increased tax revenue and local jobs. Increased economic certainty and job opportunities are particularly critical in the unprecedented environment of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Amadeus project provided employment for a large construction workforce as well as a permanent on-site operations and maintenance team.
|Taking on building a wind power project during a pandemic is no easy feat-there were challenges to overcome with Amadeus Wind, including financing and construction challenges. But BayWa r.e. was able to successfully meet these challenges.|
"In discussions with local leaders, we also heard loud and clear that developing and keeping a trained local workforce to support wind projects such as Amadeus is of critical importance," said Duke. "In response to this need, we worked with Kent, Stonewall, and Fisher Counties to create a scholarship fund at Texas State Technical College in Sweetwater, for students entering the school's Wind Energy Technology Program. The fund we created will provide an opportunity for students to enter the program with 100 percent of the tuition costs covered, and students will exit the program with the high-quality training needed to immediately enter a growing and local job market in the wind industry."
Joerg Beland, vice president of construction at BayWa r.e. Wind, is responsible for the company's engineering and construction activities. He said the topography of the Amadeus site is best described as Texan. "It appears easy-going at first sight, but it provides plenty of depth and complexity when you get into the details of building the infrastructure for a wind farm."
State Highway TX-70 runs through the middle of the wind farm site. West of the highway, the terrain is mainly flat until the site reaches the fork of the Brazos River. The Brazos meanders through the site, and it has a long history of creating steep cliffs (several hundred feet tall) on both sides. The river itself, though, is mostly only 20 feet wide. At times, however, it can grow to multiple times that width, posing a logistical challenge.
"While we gave it some consideration, it became clear that there was no feasible way to construct a crossing for turbine component delivery," explained Beland. "Instead, we had to use two different entrances and two laydown yards for either side. While only six miles apart as the crow flies, the drive from one side to the other takes about 40 minutes—everything is bigger in Texas," says Beland.
|Increased economic certainty and job opportunities are particularly critical in the unprecedented environment of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Amadeus wind project provided employment for a large construction workforce in this area of West Texas, as well as a permanent on-site operations and maintenance team.|
The other side of the wind farm, east of TX-70, features a different topography; a system of gentle, mostly interconnected ridge lines along which BayWa r.e. lined up the turbines to take advantage of the higher wind speeds. They used as many of the existing trails that landowners had created for their ranching and hunting activities as possible. "It sounds like easy construction, but it's a big difference to drive a 4x4 pickup truck over a trail than walk a fully rigged 600-ton crane from one turbine location to the next," said Beland.
This year's weather provided some interesting extremes. In January, when road construction had just begun, the site experienced a blizzard with amounts of snow that normally would have accumulated, on average, over three years. This event positively influenced necessary design improvements. In August the site received a rain event with seven inches within 48 hours, and delivery of turbines was still in full swing; the nearly 45 miles of access roads held—100 percent. At the same time, they also found spots on the erosion control system that needed attention, and which will be fixed before equipment is demobilized.
"Having experienced two extreme weather events during the construction, I feel that we have the best possible proof that the Amadeus Wind access roads are ready for any increase of extremes that we may experience with the weather," says Beland.
The project's point of interconnection is just under one mile from the southernmost extension of the wind farm. American Electric Power/Electric Transmission Texas built a large switching station next to the 345 kV CREZ line and a 345 kV tap line to the Amadeus 1 substation. It was successfully energized just in time when the first of the project's two Main Power Transformers (83.33 MVA and 200 MVA) was delivered and installed.
|The erection contractor on the Amadeus wind project, Barnhart Crane & Rigging, had to be very flexible to offload up to 30 arriving components on a single day- often out-of-sequence. A rate of between eight and ten complete turbines per week was maintained, which GE logistically brought in from several different locations throughout the U.S.|
Due to the project's geographic expansion and after modeling different approaches, the loss-optimized collector design with a total of 65 system-miles was chosen.
Its features include a second substation within the wind farm to collect the energy from the northern and eastern parts of the project, and delivering it via a 345 kV overhead line across the Brazos River valley to the project's substation. Some helicopter work was involved in installing the 7-mile-long high-voltage line. For the most part, the line was designed along or in close proximity to existing trails, allowing for ground base installation.
By mid-October, all wind turbine components had been delivered and more than half were installed. The erection contractor had to be very flexible to offload up to 30 arriving components on a single day—often out-of-sequence. A rate of between eight and ten complete turbines per week was maintained, which GE logistically brought in from several different locations throughout the U.S.
Though the project went well, this is one area that could use further attention. "If we think about areas to improve on project construction logistics, turbine delivery clearly still has some clearance in the room before hitting the ceiling," said Beland.
In terms of companies involved in the project, JBS Energy Solutions LLC performed the civil work and foundations; Rosendin Electric Inc. performed all electrical (substation, overhead collection line, underground collections system); and Barnhart Crane & Rigging carried out turbine component offloads and turbine assembly.
Natural Power serves as an independent engineer on Amadeus. The Natural Power team undertook a full review of the project's engineering designs, turbine technology, operating contracts, financial models, and permits prior to construction commencing and is monitoring the ongoing construction activities.
Amadeus Wind's operation and maintenance building is located in the town of Rotan, halfway between the northern and southern project entrances. An existing building was found and completely remodeled and now provides an attractive space for the 10 to 14 member workforce to keep Amadeus running. It's located next to the main intersection and will be a visible sign that the future of energy has arrived in this West Texas town.
Beland says the largest challenge of the 250-MW Amadeus project was not the size alone—it was the size in combination with its geographic expansion. Very precise planning and communication were mandatory, and a lack thereof showed immediate push-backs in performance rates.
"On top of that, the project was mainly constructed during a pandemic, with impacts nobody could have predicted," he said. "As a result, project meetings were held remotely—even if the participants were sitting next to each other in neighboring trailers or outdoors. Workers had to get used to wearing face masks, even at temperatures beyond 100 degrees when working next to each other and social distancing wasn't possible."
In terms of dealing with COVID-19, BayWa r.e. and its contractors were on it early, and in a big way—but they were also fortunate, says Beland.
"We were very early and diligent with our COVID-19 measures, and I sincerely commend all contractors and their workforces involved for having provided such a responsible attitude towards their coworkers and the project," he says. "But we also humbly acknowledge that we had a great portion of luck."