Gone with the wind: producing renewable energy on the remote Texas plains
This piece originally appeared at BP.com and was authored by Eric Hanson, a writer for BP America.
Ever dream of escaping urban life – the traffic, the crowds, the commute? Manny Dominquez, facility manager at BP’s Sherbino 2 wind farm, works on the plains of West Texas – where the terrain is rugged, the distances are big and the racoons can cause havoc if they find a way indoors
Wind farms in the US are often located on vast expanses of land, with turbines turning many hundreds of miles away from urban centres of energy demand. BP has interests in 15 wind farms in nine states – including four in Texas, which has the most installed wind power capacity of all 50 states. BP’s Sherbino 2 wind farm is found in Pecos County, West Texas. In local terms, it’s just down the road from the town of McCamey, which BP’s Manny Dominquez calls home. The small rural town, population 2,000, is named after George B. McCamey whose wildcat well discovery in 1925 brought about the oil boom in the area. Today, McCamey is known as the ‘wind energy capital’ of Texas.
Wide open spaces and the long drive home
“I live in McCamey, a town that is about 50 miles from Sherbino. This part of the country is wide open and towns are few, so people who don’t like to drive long distances are in a world of hurt. It is a 35-minute drive to the nearest town which is Fort Stockton. A trip to town can easily take two or three hours out of your day. Any one that comes here to visit our site from Houston or from out of state sometimes has a hard time adjusting because the area is so desolate. Our terrain is what people think Texas should look like, the cactus, the rocks and mesas. It is also peaceful, especially at night when you walk outside and look up and see all the constellations. Some nights are extremely quiet; you can hear for miles and smell the smoke from the barbeque pit coming from the ranch next to us.”
Where a ‘team lunch’ means cook-your-own
“We have three BP employees and 14 contractors who work out of the operations and maintenance building. Unlike other BP sites, we can’t all get together at a restaurant for a meal, it is just too far to town. So, we try to promote team spirit by having frequent cook-outs. Everyone will pitch in and buy some meat and we’ll have a barbeque once a week or so. We are so isolated here and having the cook-outs is a way to keep morale up. It pays off; this is a really good crew here.”
Keeping a weather eye out
“I love working here. It’s been eight years now. Sherbino 2 is my baby; I helped build her and bring her online to produce power for America. We have 58 turbines here, spread over 20,000 acres, with capacity to generate 145 megawatts each day – that’s enough to power 43,500 homes. We are always watching the weather, the wind, rain, the heat, lightning, snow, everything. During the summer, temperatures can be anywhere from 100 to 130° Fahrenheit inside the nacelles, the structures that house the generating equipment. So, the guys have to be careful about staying hydrated. We also have to be very alert about lightning, as thunderstorms can develop quickly. I call them ‘popcorn storms’ because they just pop up out of nowhere. We programmed everyone’s phones with weather alerts so when a lightning strike occurs within our 30 miles radius, it automatically sends a message to each phone and we then coordinate everyone back to the office, located on the wind farm.
“The wind farms are on private property and land that is used for ranching. In addition to the hundreds of sheep that wander around, we have rattlesnakes, scorpions, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, deer, raccoons, skunks and all kinds of poisonous spiders. At night, our main concern is intruders – of the four-legged variety. We have to make sure the bay doors are properly closed and secure. Once, raccoons got into the building by opening the louvers of a small exhaust vent. After they were inside, they made their way to the lunch room and just tore the place to pieces. We had to get brooms and shoo them out. That’s life out here.”
Benefits outweigh the challenges
“There are always challenges, but in the end you care about the thing that you love, work hard for and cry over. The only disadvantage about living out here is driving for hours to buy groceries, see a movie, or take your wife shopping. But, I guess I love working here because this is the only place I’ve ever worked that really feels like a team, like a family.”