Mega wind for New Mexico
Pattern Energy Group LP has completed its Western Spirit Wind power projects in New Mexico—which at 1,050 MW, is now the largest renewable energy project in the U.S.
By Paul MacDonald
Pattern Energy Group LP wrapped up 2021 with literally a huge accomplishment—in December, the company completed construction and began commercial operation of its suite of Western Spirit Wind power projects, which now make up the largest renewable energy project in the United States.
Western Spirit Wind is made up of wind power facilities totaling more than 1,050 megawatts (MW) located in Guadalupe, Lincoln, and Torrance Counties in New Mexico. With 377 turbines, it is also the largest single phase wind project in the U.S.
“The largest renewable energy project in American history is now up and running, right here in New Mexico,” said U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich of the start-up of the project. “Western Spirit encompasses four new utility-scale wind sites that connect rural communities in central New Mexico to local customers and other major energy markets beyond our state’s borders.
“This project literally changes the map of our state’s energy landscape, allowing New Mexico to help power our nation with clean electrons,” said Heinrich.
“Western Spirit Wind is a groundbreaking megaproject that demonstrates large-scale renewables can be developed and built in the U.S.,” said Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Energy.
“These projects create significant job opportunities and local economic investments,” Garland added. “Western Spirit brought over 1,100 construction jobs to New Mexico, generated local spending, tax revenue and landowner payments in a remote area of New Mexico, and is now delivering enough renewable energy to meet the electricity needs of more than 900,000 Americans.”
Added to this, he said, the collaboration of teams of workers around the state shows what can be achieved, building the largest single-phase wind project in U.S. history in less than a year, a truly remarkable achievement. The four wind power facilities that comprise Western Spirit Wind utilize a total of 377 GE wind turbines ranging from 2.3 to 2.8 MW in size. The GE turbines utilize various tower heights to optimize the wind capture at each facility.
Blattner Energy served as the construction contractor for the Western Spirit Wind projects.
The wind project and accompanying infrastructure was truly a mega project. An associated transmission line involved more than 1,100 workers on-site during the 15-month construction period, including heavy equipment operators, electricians, laborers, and others. Going forward, more than 50 workers will operate and maintain the Western Spirit Wind facilities in New Mexico.
Mariella de Jong, Asset Manager at Pattern Energy Group, noted that the Western Spirit Wind Project, due to its size and complexity, took a great deal of planning.
“It’s a huge vision that took a lot of work, conviction and determination—and a fair share of risk taking,” she said. Pattern Energy’s involvement in the project was upwards of five years.
And there was a very firm timeline to the project. “We needed to declare commercial operation on 12 different contracts for the sale of energy to different counterparties, and we had to do that by the end of 2021—in fact, we were able to do that some two weeks in advance of that.
|Huge wind projects like Western Spirit can be all about taking care of the details, and Pattern Energy did that from the get-go, dealing with some 30 landowners on the wind project side, and over 450 landowners for the associated transmission line. The project, and its four contiguous sites, is on more than 115,000 acres|
“We did this all in less than a year, and in the middle of a global pandemic,” de Jong added.
COVID was a key challenge in a few respects, she noted. It changed the way the company and its contractors and suppliers worked. People and safety were Pattern Energy’s top priority and the company took every precaution possible. There was no project-related travel unless absolutely necessary, no face-to-face meetings, and masking and social distancing was practiced. Everything except the essential elements of construction was all done online.
“Another thing that was critical for us in the context of COVID is that we lived in a world of contingency planning,” explained de Jong. “We had to constantly think about Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.
“Towards the end of the project, when we were finalizing the transmission line, we were talking about what our Plans A and B were because we had just days left in a timeline that had to be met.
“I think that it resulted in an even higher level of co-operation and partnership with our counterparties,” she said. “We had to understand when they were hitting on a COVID-related delay or if people were ill and unable to work—it really changed how we went about developing and executing the project, from start to finish.”
De Jong added that although she is an asset manager at Pattern Energy, it was all hands on deck at the company during construction, with a large group of people very involved with the Western Spirit Wind project due to its size and complexity. “It did not matter what department you were in at the company—we pulled together the people we needed for doing Western Spirit.”
The commitment from Pattern Energy to the success of the project was clear. The project had a weekly call, that involved upwards of 40 or 50 people, from the company’s CEO to people working directly in the field, to review the project’s progress, and deal with any developing issues.
“Pattern Energy leadership was there, ready to provide advice, guidance or additional resources, if that was needed,” said de Jong. “There was a recognition, very early on, of how challenging the Western Spirit project was—and all the key aspects of the organization were ready to lend a hand.
“We had our share of challenges, COVID and otherwise, but I think it was that leadership focus and priority that allowed us to recover quickly, deal with the challenges and successfully build the project.”
Also helping out was the high level of detail and planning throughout.
|Western Spirit Wind, the largest single-phase wind project in U.S. history, was built in less than a year, a truly remarkable achievement. The four wind power facilities that comprise Western Spirit Wind utilize a total of 377 GE wind turbines ranging from 2.3 to 2.8 MW in size.|
For example, she noted, declaring commercial operation as part of a project’s Power Purchase Agreements can be a very laborious, intense, administrative process, when you have to prove to the offtakers that the project is ready to go.
“Instead of giving our offtakers that documentation later in the process, we started four months ahead, sharing information, showing them what we had, so they had plenty of time, and so we didn’t have to wait until later to prove we were ready to go into commercial operation. The same thing happened with the transfer of the transmission line to PNM (Public Service Company of New Mexico).
“PNM was part of the process, and we worked with them all the way through, reviewing everything so when the time came for the transfer to occur, they knew exactly what they were getting. It took that kind of collaboration and step by step effort with every counterparty we had, from beginning to end, to make sure everyone could predict what challenges might come ahead of us.”
A similar close working approach was taken with Blattner Energy, the EPC contractor on Western Spirit Wind, GE Wind Energy, who supplied the wind turbines, and EC Source Services, a MasTec Company, who served as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor on the transmission line.
The transmission line was a very key part of the project, noted de Jong.
“The reality was that the building of the turbines and completion of the commercial operation would not have been successful had the transmission line not been built before, and ready for the project to start commissioning. This involved multiple contractors, everyone moving in the right direction.
“Pattern Energy was like the orchestra director, making sure things were completed, and completed in the right order,” she said.
The 155-mile 345 kV Western Spirit Transmission line, developed jointly by Pattern Energy and New Mexico’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA), delivers up to 800 megawatts of wind power from Western Spirit Wind in central New Mexico to the electric grid managed by Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) near Albuquerque. Power then moves into California delivery points through the transmission networks of Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power. PNM now owns and operates the transmission line.
“The team at RETA was great to work with, but we also worked with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, and the State Land office,” said de Jong. “There were dozens of permits that had to be obtained across the four sites. It was a rigorous process, but there was the support infrastructure to help us through it.”
Drilling down, such huge wind projects can be all about taking care of the details, and Pattern Energy did that from the get-go, dealing with some 30 landowners on the wind project side, and over 450 landowners for the transmission line. The project, and its four contiguous sites, is on more than 115,000 acres. Some 300 miles of access road were required to build the 155-mile transmission line.
|Western Spirit Wind is made up of wind power facilities totaling more than 1,050 megawatts located in Guadalupe, Lincoln, and Torrance Counties in New Mexico. Western Spirit is just the beginning for Pattern Energy for New Mexico; the company has committed to $6 billion in upcoming wind energy and related infrastructure projects in the state over the next decade.|
New Mexico itself has some of the strongest wind resources in the U.S., and Western Spirit taps into that wind resource, in the central part of the state. The site is 85 miles southeast of New Mexico’s largest city,
Albuquerque. The land the project sits on is mostly used for ranch land, and grazing.
With its large size, Western Spirit is really a textbook case of achieving economies of scale, with everything from planning to construction costs spread out over a large power generating base of 1,050 MW, and a large transmission line project.
De Jong says the project’s dealings with the various levels of government, whether it was local, county or state government, were constructive.
“The State of New Mexico is very aware of the strength of its wind resource and has really put together the infrastructure to promote and facilitate the development of wind power.” She cited RETA, which was one of Pattern Energy’s partners on the project, as an example of how New Mexico is capitalizing on its renewable resources. RETA was created by New Mexico to specifically facilitate the development of electric transmission and storage projects, to move power within New Mexico and also, as is the case with Western Spirit, create economic activity through exporting power.
New Mexico sees having a solid base of renewable energy generation capacity as key to attracting high tech firms such as Facebook and Google, who are looking for renewable energy to expand their businesses.
Western Spirit Wind is just the beginning for Pattern Energy, for New Mexico; the company has committed to $6 billion in upcoming wind energy and related infrastructure projects in the state over the next decade.
During its construction, and ongoing operation, Western Spirit Wind is already delivering economic benefits for the local area—the project generated an estimated $2 billion in net economic impact.
It’s projected to provide an estimated $3 million per year for the three counties and two school districts in the project area. Such stable, long-term funding directly contributes to improved quality of education, services, roads and first responder capabilities for the entire community, says Pattern.
At the receiving end, Western Spirit Wind is now providing renewable energy to California and New Mexico through long-term power purchase agreements with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, San José Clean Energy, East Bay Community Energy, San Diego Community Power, California Choice Energy Authority and member cities, and international energy company Uniper Global Commodities.
For its part, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has moved closer toward becoming 100 percent carbon free by 2035 with the completion of the largest, most efficient and lowest cost wind farm in LADWP’s renewable energy portfolio to date: the Red Cloud Wind Project, which is part of the Western Spirit project, which is now generating up to 350 MW of new wind power. That amount of clean energy is expected to serve about 222,300 Los Angeles homes and save 464,040 metric tons of carbon emissions annually—the equivalent of removing nearly 100,000 gas-fueled cars from the road per year.
Western Spirit Wind is also providing power to New Mexico municipalities, including the Los Alamos
Department of Public Utilities, through the Uniper Global Commodities power purchase agreement.
De Jong said there was a sense of pride on the part of Pattern Energy when the Western Spirit project was completed, late last year.
“But Western Spirit is not just big for us. It’s big for everyone involved—our offtakers are moving closer to their goals of being net zero carbon, and PNM has a new transmission line. The project was a big milestone for them—and everyone we worked with.”