Vast Wind Farm Rises in Eastern NM

Mon October 20, 2003 - West Edition
April Goodwin

The winds blowing across eastern New Mexico will soon fuel the nation’s third largest wind-powered generator, thanks in part to rental equipment.

Because of the wind farm’s remote location and the nearly 25 out-of-state contractors who traveled there to build it, rental equipment played a crucial role. Nearly all of the equipment on site was rented, according to the general contractor, Florida Power Light and Energy LLC (FPL Energy).

Rusty Hurt, project superintendent for FPL Energy, explained. “Because of the remote location, it was often more economical to rent the equipment locally — even though the contractor may have owned the same piece of equipment four states away.”

Rental Service set up two on-site storage boxes at the job site, full of equipment that RSC sales representative Valerie Wheatstine and Hurt anticipated contractors would need.

“This site was literally out in the middle of nowhere,” Wheatstine says, “and when the contractors needed equipment, they needed it now — not in four hours. So, we decided to set up two ’convenience stores’ that had everything from light towers and generators to pressure washers and light compaction equipment.

“In addition, the storage bins contained retail items like safety vests, lanyards, earplugs and hard hats. Whenever contractors needed something, they just checked it out and let an [FPL Energy] administrator know.”

Hurt said FPL Energy decided to rent from RSC because of its “service, service, service.”

“RSC was extremely flexible in setting up the on-site warehouse of equipment that all contractors could access,” he said. “Since we didn’t have to wait for equipment delivery, we didn’t have any work delays.”

The $200-million wind farm stretches along 15 mi, (24 km) and 9,600 acres of land northeast of Fort Sumner, on the Taiban Mesa. It consists of 136 turbine towers, each more than 20 stories high, which are topped by 110-ft. (33.5 m) propeller-like blades.

The rotating blades cause a generator at the top of each tower to produce electricity, which feeds into a nearby high-voltage power line owned by the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). The farm will produce enough power to supply more than 90,000 homes.

PNM and Florida-based FPL Energy, which leads the United States in wind energy production with 28 wind facilities in 10 states, signed an agreement for the 204-megawatt wind farm in a major step to diversify New Mexico’s energy sources.

The development stage of the project started in 2001 with negotiations between PNM and landowners.

“There were also extensive engineering studies that had to be performed to prove that this plant would interact properly with the electric grid,” Hurt said.

Herling Construction crews began to construct a series of dirt roads on Taiban Mesa, near the small town of House, NM, in March 2003. The crew rented 10-ton (9 t) rollers and 4,000-gal. (15,141 L) water trucks from RSC during this phase. It was a critical first step in transforming a portion of the mesa into an energy production facility that produces no air emissions and uses no water to generate electricity.

“And, only four and a half months later, in late July 2003, we were online,” Hurt said.

According to Hurt, the most challenging aspect of the job was the remoteness of the site.

“It made pre-planning for tasks especially crucial,” he said. “Being short just one bolt for a component causes a major delay. It was an hour to the nearest hardware store — and the same goes for equipment. For such a short duration job, it is agonizing to wait on equipment to be delivered to a remote site.”

Hurt said crews used rental equipment — and the RSC equipment storage sheds — to overcome this challenge.

Contractors rented everything from boom lifts to power tools from RSC. Several fuel and water trucks also were on-site to keep equipment moving and the dust still, Wheatstine noted, giving the following as examples:

• Beard Industries Inc. rented dozens of generators and compressors.

• Great Southwestern Construction rented skid steer loaders, loader attachments, and articulating boom lifts.

• Herling Construction rented large excavators, several 4,000-gal. (15,141 L) water trucks, three 84-in. (213 cm) rollers, compressors, light compaction equipment, and generators.

• Kemco Corporation rented a rough terrain forklift.

• J & J Powerline rented compressors, air breakers, generators, light compaction equipment, and light towers.

• Milco Constructors Inc. rented post drivers, water trucks, pressure washers, generators, air compressors, a laser level, several 10,000-lb. (4,535 kg) variable reach forklifts, pickup trucks, equipment trailers, a 500-gal. (1,892 L) water trailer, two containers, and an equipment trailer.

• Power Line Constructors Inc. rented a backhoe breaker, ride-on padfoot rollers, and air compressors.

Hurt said the most impressive technique used during construction of the wind farm was the method used to transfer materials to construction teams.

“Assuming that each turbine requires seven oversized truck loads of components, we had to flow over 1,000 truckloads into their assigned locations in about a 60-day window of time,” he said. “We built that temporary road system, which allowed a smooth, one-way flow of traffic through the site.”

The New Mexico Wind Energy Center was fully operational in July 2003 and, now that construction is complete, 95 percent of the land leased for the wind center is still available for other uses, such as grazing and crop production. FPL Energy will own and operate the facility and PNM will purchase all of its output for the next 25 years.

(April Goodwin is a technical writer in Des Moines, IA.)