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E.ON Climate & Renewables North America (ECRNA) is no stranger to South Texas. Nearly four years ago, the developer built the 179.85 MW Papalote Creek Wind Farm. Then, a short time later, the developer constructed a second phase on adjacent land, adding another 200.1 MW of installed capacity. At the time of development, the wind farms were among the first wind projects located as far south (and east) as Corpus Christi.

And with its most recent wind project, ECRNA has migrated even farther south: How far? Within an hour’s drive to Matamoros, Mexico.

The 203.28 MW Magic Valley Wind Farm, located near Harlingen, Texas, is powered by 112 Vestas V100-1.8 MW turbines and interconnects to the grid via a 138 kV transmission line owned by American Electric Power. ECRNA secured a long-term off-take agreement for the project’s output; however, the buyer’s identity has not been disclosed.

Financing for the project included institutional equity financing of around $167.7 million and a commitment to fund the expected capital contributions of nearly $55.9 million. Investors included JPM Capital Corp. and Wells Fargo Wind Holdings LLC.

According to ECRNA CEO Patrick Woodson, several site attributes – as well as improved turbine technology – emboldened the developer’s decision to proceed with the project.

For one, the on-peak nature of the wind resource matches the power demand curve of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the system operator. ECRNA also benefited from the turbine’s 100-meter rotors, which helped boost capacity factors “into the 40s,” Woodson says.

“We’ve seen a steady improvement, even from a couple of years ago, in the efficiency of turbine technology with longer blades and bigger generators,” he explains, citing the turbine’s ability to deliver optimal performance at sites with low to medium wind speeds.

Since entering commercial operation last September, Magic Valley is exceeding the company’s expectations. In fact, ECRNA says Magic Valley has been one of its top-performing wind farms.

“Since Magic Valley Wind Farm began commercial operations, it has consistently been one of our most productive projects, often generating more megawatt-hours of electricity than almost every other project in our portfolio,” says Woodson.

 

Challenges

Although the finished product validated the company’s belief in the project, several site-related attributes involving water made construction quite challenging.

For starters, Magic Valley is located in a hurricane zone, and as such, the wind farm needed to be engineered to withstand related harsh elements. John Badeusz, ECRNA’s head of construction, explains all structures were designed to withstand wind speeds as high as 135 mph. In addition, the company and Avon, Minn.-based construction services provider Blattner Energy had to be mindful of a possible storm surge.

“The electrical substation and operations facility, located in the path of a potential hurricane storm water surge, were built up several feet to prevent flooding,” says Badeusz. “As a result, some turbine locations were moved, and foundations were designed to be massive enough to prevent movement.”

Also, the large scale of the project and timing of installation were managed so that all crane lifts could be essentially complete prior to the beginning of hurricane season.

But ECRNA did not have to wait for inclement weather to deal with water. Given the site’s shallow ground water conditions, the presence of the wet stuff was inevitable.

“The presence of ground water as high as seven to eight feet below ground surface required installation of a well system in order to keep the turbine foundation excavations dry,” Badeusz explains.

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Complicating matters, explains Woodson, was how to transport the water once it was pumped out of the ground. Because the wind farm is housed near agricultural lands, workers could not simply redirect the water to surrounding areas because it would kill vegetation. Using a combination of pumps and trucks, ECRNA found a suitable workaround, albeit at a cost.

“Having to pump groundwater continuously for up to three days prior to pouring the concrete foundations added time and expense,” Badeusz adds.

Despite the development challenges, ECRNA says the Magic Valley project has been a boon to Willacy County. Over its lifetime, the project is expected to generate more than $53 million in local taxes, pay $12 million in local salaries and earn landowners more than $87 million.

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At the time of construction, company spokesperson Matt Tulis noted, “We’ve spent more than $3.5 million on local vendors in Willacy, Cameron and Hidalgo counties. These include local stores and merchants such as Walmart, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Alamo Lumber, Circle R Electric, The Willacy County Co-op and La Quinta hotel in Raymondville.

“We’ve hired more than 90 local laborers through our main construction contractor, as well as the many subcontractors who work on the project,” Tulis continued. “We’ve also heard from local restaurants, like the Boot Co. Bar & Grill, that their business has increased significantly since the start of construction.”

According to ECRNA, more than 200 people were hired during construction, and the project will create approximately 20 permanent positions. w

Project Profile: Magic Valley Wind Farm

Developer Continues South Texas Migration

By Mark Del Franco

E.ON Climate & Renewables North America, the owner and operator of the Magic Valley Wind Farm, is quickly finding a comfort level in building wind projects near the South Texas coast.

 

 

 

 

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