Harnessing the Power of Wind-Rich New Mexico
October 13, 2021
Ulteig Engineers Design Massive Collection and Gen-Tie Transmission System to Capture and Transmit Power from New Mexico wind projects comprised of 377 Turbines
Corona, New Mexico – Over the course of the next few years, this rural region of New Mexico will become famous for being the center of the largest wind energy project in the United States.
In 2017, Ulteig was hired by wind energy developer and Independent Power Producer Pattern Energy to design a system to collect energy from the 377-turbine Western Spirit Wind Projects through four collection substations. Electricity would then be transmitted through 67 miles of 345 kV AC transmission lines (the GenTie Transmission) to the 155-mile Western Spirit Transmission line. The collection substations were designed with power metering equipment that meets the California ISO (CAISO) metering requirements, which allows power produced from the Western Spirit wind farm to be sold on the California grid.
When construction is completed, 1,050 MW of power will be transmitted from the Western Spirit Wind Project, which consists of four wind farms situated across the counties of Guadalupe, Lincoln and Torrance in central New Mexico. The wind farms are approximately 292,000 acres of land held by 40 landowners.
The Western Spirit Wind Project was an incredibly complex and far-reaching project, which involved numerous design services across Ulteig’s Power & Renewables Lifeline Sectors® including, collection system design, substation design, transmission line design and CAISO metering design. Having just one consultant, Ulteig, design all of these services allows all aspects of the design to seamlessly change when necessary. Ulteig engineers sought to drive down costs while staying on-budget and within the construction schedule as they navigated the remote terrain of central New Mexico.
“There are very few consultants that provide everything that was needed for this project- especially the combination of a collection system, susbstation, gen-tie transmission, and CAISO metering- all in one place,” said Greg Parent, P.E., S.E., Principal Engineer with Ulteig’s Transmission and Distribution team. “The fact that a client can go to Ulteig and get all of these engineering disciplines by the same consultant is what sets Ulteig apart.”
“We’re honored to have been selected for this project,” added Cassie Polman, Ulteig’s Associate Director for Substation, at the time and now Director of Automation, Integration and System Protection. “It’s been incredibly exciting for our team to work on. The complexity and scale of it was a challenge that Ulteig was ready to take on. We’re proud of our work and the impact of this project on America’s power grid when it’s completed. It’s a game changer in the world of renewables, and it’s a model of what wind projects will look like in the future.”
Tapping into Wind-Rich New Mexico
Tapping into the wind-rich region of central New Mexico, the Western Spirit gen-tie transmission lines will connect four collection substations at Tecolote, Clines Corners, Duran Mesa and Red Cloud, New Mexico. These substations support the four wind farms that make up the Western Spirit Wind Project. According to Pattern Energy, the 377 turbines offer a capacity ranging between 2.3MW and 2.8MW. The four wind farms include:105 MW Duran Mesa, 272 MW Tecolote, 349 MW Red Cloud, and the 324 MW Clines Corners. The farms are part of a larger wind development called the Western Spirit Wind projects.
The four wind farms will collectively form one of the largest single-phase renewable power build-out in the country, providing electricity to 590,000 homes in the US. The project is also considered the biggest wind farm development in New Mexico.
According to the Energy Conservation and Management Division for the State of New Mexico, “the potential for electricity generation from wind is enormous in some areas of New Mexico, especially on the eastern plains. New Mexico ranks 12th in wind electric potential and is among 12 states in the midsection of the country that, together, have 90 percent of the total commercial wind electric potential in the contiguous United States. The annual wind energy potential of New Mexico has been estimated to be 435 billion kWh. New Mexico has the potential to produce many times its own electrical consumption, which puts it in a position to export wind electric power.”
The entire project—wind farms, substations, transmission line, metering, etc.—will bring significant economic benefits to local communities in central New Mexico with employment opportunities, college training, property taxes and landowner royalties. State and local governments can use their new revenue sources to support improvements to schools, hospitals, fire departments and police services.
With a project so large and complex, the Ulteig Transmission and Distribution, Substation and CAISO teams faced several challenges while designing and engineering this project.
Collections – With 377 Western Spirit wind turbines spread out over a three-county area, the Ulteig Transmission and Distribution team sought to find the most advantageous routes to lay underground collection cables. The team was able to limit trenching to 285 miles.
CAISO Metering – Based on power purchase agreements, which would involve distributing power from the project outside of New Mexico to California, Ulteig involved its new CAISO metering team, which determined that the project would require 46 meters (double the number of a typical project) based on the complexity and scale of the project.
Transmission Lines – With the 67-mile gen-tie transmission line system structure, the Ulteig Transmission and Distribution team faced two big challenges: Designing without a final identified route and contending with varying soil substrata.
In this part of New Mexico, the team contended with rocky terrain as well as still-changing easements, which meant that some pole locations could shift as much as 150 feet either way from a proposed location.
“To consolidate the schedule, we worked closely with the power line pole manufacturer to select the 490 poles needed for this project from their internal library,” said Parent. “Our team also was very nimble in leveraging various geographic surveys and other sources to optimize pole placement.”
The Ulteig design for the Western Spirit gen-tie transmission line also had to consider the farmers and ranchers who would be impacted. The project easements are on land that still belongs to the landowners and can be used for activities such as farming, grazing and other activities that do not interfere with the operation of the line. The Ulteig design therefore had to include sufficient clearance under the transmission lines to grow crops and operate standard farm equipment.
Substations – In designing four 34.5/345 kV collection substations, the substation team faced the issue of balancing costs with building for flexibility. “With a project of this size and scale, it was critical to come up with a plan that allowed for future options,” said TJ Severance, P.E., a technical manager with Ulteig’s Substation team. “Flexibility was very important. We needed to think 10 and 20 years into the future. For example, could new turbine technology be developed to add more kilowatts to the system? Could they expand the wind farms being built or add another wind farm to the system?
“We utilized a daisy-chain design to reduce transmission line, construction costs and long-term maintenance costs. We wired together the three southern substations to reduce the gen-tie transmission line length,” said Severance. “We also reduced underground cabling between turbines, and in connecting the turbines to their respective substations.
Key to Success
The key to Ulteig’s success on this project lies in the close collaboration between its different teams and with its clients.
“By having the expert resources all in one place,” said Parent, “we have the capacity to tackle large projects like these.”
“Based on the complexity of this project, we really needed to collaborate well between our internal departments, as well as with our clients’ teams.” Polman added. “I feel we became an extension of their team.”
The Future of Wind
As the Ulteig team reflects on this project, they see more potential in the future for New Mexico wind power.
“The greatest barrier to pulling energy out of this region is not in the building of more wind turbines,” said Polman. “It’s building more transmission lines and substations to get the power to a point where it can be delivered to a customer. In other words, the constraint is the grid itself.”
“It was an incredible experience to be part of this massive project,” Severance added. “For those of us who have dreamed of seeing renewable energy used at this scale, it’s pretty amazing. With projects like this, you can feel the momentum finally moving away from legacy energy sources.”
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*Photo(s) sourced by Pattern Energy