Big Raymond: Energy giant E.on announces new $500 million wind farm

Winds blowing around the clock, solid transmission infrastructure and local cooperation are combining to make the Lower Rio Grande Valley the sweet spot for wind energy companies when it comes to maximizing their investment. By Rick Kelley, Valley Morning Star

HARLINGEN — The high winds of the Rio Grande Valley continue to blow in money.

E.on Climate and Renewables North America, a U.S. subsidiary of a German company, announced this past week it will be constructing a massive $500 million, 440-megawatt wind farm covering parts of Willacy, Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

This field will mostly be sited in Willacy County, where E.on has two operating wind farms, Breunning’s Breeze, a 228-MW facility, and Magic Valley, which generates 203 MW of power.

The new field will be called Big Raymond with somewhere between 180 and 220 turbines. Construction is expected to begin this year with completion anticipated in late 2020.

Matt Tulis, a spokesman for E.on based in Austin, said about 300 construction workers will be employed during the initial phase of the project. Once complete, maybe 10 to 15 full-time staff will maintain the facility.

“Again, that can vary, especially if the site’s a little big larger,” Tulis said.

The developer has already completed a deal with utility Austin Energy which will buy 200MW of the power plant’s capacity over 12 years.

Texas leads the nation in wind energy production. But the emerging sweet spot in Texas for wind energy companies is the Rio Grande Valley, particularly the area in proximity to the gulf coast.

Tulis said the foundation for his company’s big investment in the Valley is based on three factors.

“One of the main reasons is the wind profile down there,” he said “The winds tend to increase later in the day when we see peak demand for energy on the grid, so that’s a bonus, because the turbines are producing at the times the power is needed the most.

“And we see good transmission down there so there’s available capacity on the lines to get the power from the wind farm to where people are using it,” he added. “And we’ve had great local support and that’s the third key piece to this. If you don’t have the local support then you’re not going to go anywhere.”

The Big Raymond wind farm, to be sited in a rural agricultural area where the counties of Willacy, Cameron and Hidalgo intersect, will cover approximately 35,000 acres.

E.on is building out wind farms elsewhere as well. Nationwide, it is constructing 900MW of renewables capacity, including both wind and solar projects. Several hundred megawatts will be generated from wind farms in Texas.

In April, E.on started construction of the 220MW Cranell wind farm in Refugio County. That facility with its 100 turbines is expected to be commissioned before the end of the year.

In March, E.on began construction of the 151MW Peyton Creek wind farm in Matagorda County with 48 turbines. Peyton Creek also is expected to be commissioned by the end of this year.

This month E.on opened its 201MW Stella wind farm in Kenedy County with 67 turbines.

“We see higher wind speeds, say, in the Panhandle or West Texas, but the profile, like I said, the time of day the winds are blowing, really makes a difference for the Rio Grande Valley,” Tulis said.

“It’s going to be the single largest phase that we’ve built in the U.S. to date so we’re very happy to be moving forward,” he added.

Valley wind farms

Los Vientos I — 87 turbines, 200MW

Los Vientos II — 84 turbines, 202MW

San Roman — 31 turbines, 93MW

Cameron Wind — 55 turbines, 165MW

Bruenning’s Breeze — 76 turbines, 228MW

Magic Valley — 112 turbines, 203MW

Palmas Altas (under construction) — 46 turbines, 145MW

Planned wind farms

Big Raymond — 180-220 turbines, 440MW

EDF Renewables — 125 turbines, 272MW

El Sauz Ranch Wind — 100 turbines, 300MW

rkelley@valleystar.com