Texas Wind energy takes off

Source: By Kevin Welch, Amarillo Globe News • Posted: Monday, March 18, 2013

Wilson Construction crew member Pete Covey dangles in a Bosun's chair under the helicopter flown by pilot Cabot Wilford while working to install pulleys and insulation equipment to hang powerlines Thursday for Sharyland Utilities south of Wildorado. The towers are 125 feet tall.   Michael Schumacher / Amarillo Globe-News

Michael Schumacher / Amarillo Globe-News
Wilson Construction crew member Pete Covey dangles in a Bosun’s chair under the helicopter flown by pilot Cabot Wilford
while working to install pulleys and insulation equipment to hang powerlines Thursday for Sharyland Utilities south of Wildorado. The towers are 125 feet tall.

Projects to double capacity

The Texas Panhandle’s wind energy industry is about to be blown away.

An international mix of companies has committed to more than doubling the region’s production capacity by spending more than an estimated $3.3 billion on construction of wind farms in the next two years.

The area currently has the capability of producing about 1,500 megawatts, but that will go up by another 1,644 megawatts if projects now under contract go through.

Cross Texas Transmission and Sharyland Utilities are approaching the end of construction of transmission lines that will take locally produced electricity to places like Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. That has lit the fuse, and wind farm developers and the transmission companies have begun filing agreements with the Public Utility Commission of Texas making some of their formerly closely guarded commitments public.

Cross Texas has finished its Phase I construction from near Childress to south of Pampa and then to the White Deer area.

“Cross Texas Transmission is working with (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) and other transmission service providers to schedule the energization of these facilities. Cross Texas’ Phase II facilities are approximately 70 percent complete with construction,” said Cameron Fredkin, director of project development at Cross Texas. “Completion of the Phase II facilities is expected late summer or early fall.”

The company is building more than 200 miles of line at a cost of about $425 million. It has used local companies for some of the engineering, construction and supplies as well as other needs.

“Local companies and many others throughout the state of Texas and United States have played a large role in the success,” Fredkin said.

Sharyland is making progress on several segments of 300 miles of line it is building in the Panhandle and South Plains, including the one running north and then east from Hereford to White Deer. Other segments include White Deer to Silverton, Silverton to Cottonwood and Silverton to Hereford. The company expects to meet the Dec. 31 deadline set by the state for putting the lines into service.

The estimated cost is about $630 million.

On Thursday, crews were working with a helicopter between Hereford and Wildorado, preparing towers averaging 125 feet high for the lines they will hold.

“Helicopters allow the wires of the transmission line to be strung quicker than using bucket trucks from the ground. We use them for hanging insulators and the stringing dollies (large pulleys that hang temporarily from the bottom of the tower arms),” Sharyland spokeswoman Jeanne Phillips said. “We also use them for stringing the smaller wires connected to the tops of the towers and pulling in the P-line, which is a rope.”

Workers attach the rope to the cable that carries the electricity and use a powerful reel to pull the cable through the pulleys. One of the smaller lines intercepts lightning and disperses it while the other holds fiber optic lines used to control the flow of electricity.

As the construction wraps up, the focus turns to securing customers.

“A couple of customers have signed interconnected agreements to connect wind energy facilities to the Cross Texas Transmission system,” Fredkin said. “These customers plan on constructing their facilities in 2013 and energizing their facilities in late 2013 and early 2014.”

Sharyland is also making progress with four agreements filed, Phillips said. These are EC&R Development, whose parent corporation is headquartered in Germany; RES America Developments, based in England; Spinning Spur Two, a partnership of an Austin company and a subsidiary of a French company; and Mariah North West, a partnership of Parmer County landowners and businessmen and a Norwegian company.

Cross Texas has at least one connection agreement with Pattern Panhandle Wind, whose parent is based in San Francisco.

The spending estimates do not include the facilities to make the connections between wind farms and transmission lines, which will cost millions. One such project is estimated to cost about $36 million. Also, the wind developers have to get their energy to the connection facilities, and the distance can vary from a few miles to more than 40.

The path has not always been smooth, going through Palo Duro Canyon and along the Canadian River Breaks in addition to across flat fields, but the end of this phase is in sight.

“Other than the blizzard of 2013, and some high wind days that delayed tower erection and stringing conductor, Sharyland Utilities is pleased with the pace of construction,” Phillips said.

Xcel considers adding

Most of the approximately 1,500 megawatts of wind energy produced in the Panhandle and eastern New Mexico is flowing into Xcel Energy’s lines, while the new transmission lines will take power downstate from new wind farms.

But that doesn’t mean Xcel wouldn’t like some more wind power.

On Friday its subsidiary Southwestern Public Service announced it will take proposals, essentially bids, to provide additional wind energy.

“SPS is requesting proposals for wind generation resources that could begin delivery to SPS on or after January 1, 2014 (but no later than December 31, 2015),” according to a news release.

The proposals are due by 5 p.m. April 12.

“We don’t have a set number of megawatts in mind with this (request for proposals),” said Wes Reeves, an Xcel spokesman. “We’re simply looking to see if there is some wind to be had for a good price. We’ve made some really good deals in the past, and wind has played an important role in helping us meet growing electricity demand.”