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In the Cowboy Capital of the World, the Buckthorn Wind Facility Heralds a New Age of Renewable Energy

wind turbine
January 14, 2022

Stephenville, Texas – About 90 miles southwest of Fort Worth, Texas, it’s clear that you’re in another world. Goodbye Big City, this is ranchland, Texas-style, where wide open prairies instantly bring about images of cowboys wrangling steer and cows. It’s no wonder why it’s called the Cowboy Capital of the World.

But those images of the past are slowly but surely being replaced by new images of the future – namely, renewable energy. While Erath County boasts two of the largest natural gas plants in the country, it’s Buckthorn Wind, a facility comprised of 29 Vestas V126-3.45MW turbines that is stirring up talk in the county’s BBQ joints.

Developed by Clearway Energy Group and acquired by Capital Power in April 2020, Ulteig’s Renewables Team was hired prior to the acquisition of Buckthorn Wind by Capital Power to perform a SCADA project to clear the way for a change in ownership.

“This project involved managing a number of complex issues in preparation for the transition from one owner to another,” said Seth Maslowski, P.E., a Technical Manager with Ulteig’s Power group. “One of the complexities involves the facility’s connection to Texas’ ERCOT electrical transmission system.”

Easing the Transition

Buckthorn Wind, a 101 MW wind facility, began commercial operation in January 2018. The facility features 29 Vestas wind turbines and operates in the liquid Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) North region, which is situated between most of the wind generation in ERCOT-West and the Dallas load center. According to Capital Power, the current owner, “the ERCOT-North region has strong fundamentals with a high likelihood of baseload generation retirements and is one of the fastest growing regions in the United States. Buckthorn Wind has two offtake arrangements with an investment grade U.S. financial institution involving a 20-year contract for differences (CfD) for 55% of the generation output, and a 13-year financial hedge for the remaining 45% of the output.”

In Fall 2020, Capital Power selected Ulteig to conduct the design, engineering, and integration of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system at the Buckthorn Wind collector substation. The project was completed in January 2021.

For Ulteig, the project involved updating the substation HMI for increased information display and controls based on user permissions, replacing networking and communications equipment in support to meet the new owner network standards, and because the project was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic it offered an opportunity to test a new augmented technology called HoloLens, which allowed Ulteig engineers to “visit” the substation site remotely while one employee, fitted with a helmet mounted camera walked to various portions of the substation to allow other engineers to view, in real-time, different components of the substation.

Provided by Ulteig, HoloLens technology allowed engineers from four Ulteig offices – Denver, Fargo, Kansas City and Austin, Texas – as well as multiple Capital Power engineers to “see” the project site and work through various technical issues over the course of the project’s development.

With deadlines throughout the project and with just a few weeks to complete it, the Ulteig team were able to stay on schedule to allow for a smooth transition to Capital Power, the current owner of the wind facility.

“Knowing the tight time schedule that we were under,” said Maslowski, “We set the stage for success by establishing clear communications with our client team (engineering team based in Canada), setting clear expectations up front, and working together to prioritize critical elements.”

Changeovers to become more common

The Buckthorn Wind SCADA project included a number of elements, including:

  • Inventory existing communication equipment, design for new networking equipment installation.
  • Update and modify RTU settings for Capital Power’s operational needs.
  • Overhauling the human machine interface (HMI) to provide better visibility into the performance of the substation.
  • Pre-test communication and data with new owner prior to the ownership change date.

“While it was challenging in its own right, it was a fairly routine project for us that fortunately did not present any unexpected surprises,” noted Aaron Rasmussen, P.E., a Senior Engineer with Ulteig’s Power group.

With the growing amount of wind power development currently in the pipeline, the Ulteig SCADA team is seeing more SCADA projects involving the changeover of ownership, often from one renewables energy developer to another independent power producer or utility.

“As the demand for renewable energy continues to grow, we fully expect to see more projects like the Buckthorn Wind project,” said Maslowski.

“We’re also seeing growing demand among wind farms that are being repowered with newer, more efficient components,” Maslowski added. “Whether it’s due to turbines being at end of life, end of PPA contracts, or it’s just economically feasible to upgrade, repowering is a timely opportunity to perform SCADA, network, and other operational improvements.”

Lessons Learned

So what lessons can the Ulteig SCADA team share with wind farm owners that are anticipating a need for networking and communications support for their wind farms? Maslowski and Rasmussen offer the following advice:

  • Bring together stakeholders early — While deadlines can spur action, wind farm owners can put themselves in the best position for a successful transition by including opportunities for all parties to weigh in on potential hurdles and solutions.  That includes IT, OT, site personnel, operators, designers, and integrators who each brings their perspective to the project.
  • Set the environment for collaboration – Working virtually can be challenging, but it is possible with new technology, such as HoloLens, which allows for enhanced collaboration between teams located in different parts of North America.
  • Pre-Test/Confirm often –When you’re under a tight deadline, such as in the case of this project, it’s imperative to build in more pre-testing into the process to minimize the amount of critical features to test on cutover day. Breaking down the SCADA project into smaller pieces and confirming that each step has been completed to the specification, enhances the prospect of hitting key milestones.
  • More complex than you think – Ulteig’s team of System Integration professionals have extensive experience with SCADA and networking design projects. However, every project offers its own unique set of complexities and challenges and that’s why it’s important to always enter a project with an open mind and embrace the problem-solving opportunities it offers.

Learn more about Ulteig’s SCADA Capabilities

Ulteig’s team of System Integration professionals offers an extensive set of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and networking design services. They provide reliable, versatile communications network with customized data, monitoring and control measures. Click here to learn more about Ulteig’s SCADA capabilities.

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