RIO HONDO — Out of some muddy farm fields, pastures and shaggy mesquite groves, a Spain-based energy company is carving out another multi-hundred-million-dollar energy project in northern Cameron County.
The latest evidence of the investment by Acciona Energy USA is the beginning of construction on a new $1.25 million warehouse and office complex just east of here. It will turn a narrow farm track into a key support facility for the new Palmas Altas Wind Farm near Bayview.
The Palmas Altas project, a $200 million investment by Acciona Energy USA, will be the company’s ninth wind farm in the United States and its second facility in Cameron County. The San Roman Wind Farm, which went online in 2016, is nearby.
The building on North Olmito Road “is part of a large wind farm that we are constructing or that we are beginning to construct, in the following days, that is the Palmas Altas project,” said Acciona Energy USA’s CEO Rafael Esteban.
“That building is part of the infrastructure, it’s all part of the turbines, part of the collection system, and is where we are going to have our operations and maintenance people for the wind farm,” he added in an interview last week.
Road work needed
The location of the new warehouse/office complex is on North Olmito Road about three miles south of Marshall Hutts Road at Arroyo City.
Calling this stretch of rarely graded track a road displays a generosity of descriptive spirit.
Olmito Road here is a two-lane, laser-light-straight farm track crossing muddy cotton fields, best accessed with four-wheel drive. A single line of creosoted power poles parallels the road, stretching into a distance which lacks any view of a residence or farm building.
“Part of our construction plan is to do some improvements along East Fernando Road and Olmito Road so it can support our construction traffic,” Brian Dunneback, Acciona’s Palmas Altas site developer, said last week. “We definitely understand when it rains there the roads can get in bad condition — I’ve had first-hand experience with that.”
Jobs, taxes boost
The construction phase of the Palmas Altas Wind Farm will employ a significant workforce, and once finished, 10 full-time Acciona workers will be located in the county, Esteban said.
“We should be having about 170 direct jobs between our company and contract people, but when this becomes operational,” the total number of permanent employees will be about 10, he said.
The Palmas Altas Wind Farm project, over its projected lifespan of around 25 years, is expected to generate $40 million in local tax revenue and account for more than $44 million in lease payments to local landowners, Acciona officials have said.
Why Cameron County?
Acciona officials say their major new investment in Cameron County is based on several factors.
Esteban said an attractive feature of the wind industry sector in Texas compared to other regions of the country could be because the industry here is more mature and is thus more predictable from a regulatory standpoint.
“We like the stability of the wind sector of the U.S., and that’s important because we are an international company —
but we want to be locally focused,” the CEO said. “Texas is quite friendly for the development of wind, so that makes life easier.”
The breezy conditions off the Gulf of Mexico also play a major part, but maybe not for reasons apparent to a layperson when it comes to wind power and electricity demand.
“We like the area because of two things — one the wind is really good, so that’s pretty important —
and the way that the wind blows in South and Coastal Texas,” he said, noting the gulf breezes are strong even at night, unlike other, inland parts of Texas where wind speeds can drop to nothing after sundown.
“So this means when the wind blows is when there is more demand for energy in the system so this allows us to provide” it and receive a higher price since wind power-producing units elsewhere are not sending electricity into the grid at night.
How it fits
The warehouse/office building on North Olmito Road, and even the Palmas Altas Wind Farm itself, are just pieces of a larger puzzle that stretches across South Texas.
The power lines delivering electricity from wind at Palmas Altas will be carried by new transmission lines and towers being built just east of Rio Hondo to link the East Rio Hondo Substation owned by the South Texas Electrical Cooperative, or STEC, and a new Palmas switching station to the north.
STEC, a consortium of smaller electric power cooperatives that includes Magic Valley Electric Coop based in Mercedes, is seeking regulatory approval of a route for the transmission lines and will then purchase rights-of-way. STEC plans to have this infrastructure in place by the time Palmas Altas goes online.
“We’re working with them on kind of what the plans are going to be on that,” said Dunneback, the wind farm development manager. “Obviously we have a vested interest with our generation facility with the Palmas project there. We’ve been staying in touch with them and keeping track of how things have been progressing with that project as well.”
Acciona’s open book
For his part, Esteban stresses his company places a priority on transparency, and has even dedicated a new website — — to explain Acciona Energy’s plans and commitment to its wind farms and other stakeholders in Cameron County and South Texas.
“That’s one thing that we want to be transparent with everyone about what we do, why we do it and the timing,” he said.
Esteban said Acciona wants to “integrate correctly” in the area like the company did with the San Roman facility.
“We’re going to be there forever, for the life of the wind farm, which is set for 25 or more years, 30 or whatever,” Esteban said. “So we need to be sure that we engage correctly and we have the correct interconnection with all the potential stakeholders from the county, from the interconnection site, STEC, from landowners, suppliers, et cetera.”
Palmas Altas Wind Farm
WHEN — Goes online in late 2019
WHERE — Near Bayview
CAPACITY — 145 megawatts
INVESTMENT — $200 million
POWER — Enough for 43,000 homes
TURBINES — 46
TURBINE TYPE— Nordex AW 125/3150
TOWER — Steel, 87.5-meter (287 feet) hub height
JOBS — 170 during construction phase; 10 permanent
For more data on the new , go online here: www.palmaswind.com