Summer nights with barely a breeze aren’t the only times the wind farms take a break. The extreme bluster of the weather this week caused turbine trouble across the area.
“The wind producers had let us know in advance we could expect some curtailments, or what they call ‘cutouts,'” said Xcel Energy spokesman Wes Reeves. “We know wind energy is intermittent, but we build in anticipated wind based on forecasts. We were very appreciative they got in touch with us.”
The problem was howling winds of up to 48 mph on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to data from the National Weather Service’s Amarillo office.
Turbines capture the wind about 300 feet in the air, where there is less drag from the surface of Earth, so the speeds are even higher. Strong winds can cause the turbines, which normally thrive on the gusty Panhandle breezes, to shut down. Some are programmed to shut down automatically when winds reach a certain speed.
“The industry standard is 25 meters per second or right at 52 mph,” said Walt Hornaday, president of Cielo Wind Power, which has developed what it calls “wind ranches” across the Panhandle. “You’d be surprised how often it gets to those levels and we have to shut the turbines down. You can get 40 to 60 mph at the top of a turbine for hours and sometimes a day or two. That’s not common, but it does happen.”
The low temperatures were also a challenge, staying below freezing for days and falling below zero several nights.
“Temperature-related errors caused turbines to go down,” said Brad Christopher, who supervises maintenance for Edison Mission Group at the Wildorado Wind Ranch about 20 miles west of Amarillo. “Thick gear oil, thick hydraulic fluid.”
It’s been colder in February, such as when the temperature fell to minus 16, but there were no wind turbines around when that record was set in 1899, according to the weather service.
Christopher said about half of the 70 turbines at Wildorado were operating by Friday afternoon.
As the weather pressure eased and wind power came back into the electricity mix, Xcel faced challenges related to the supply of natural gas to some of its generation plants.
“Some gas that was scheduled to arrive didn’t,” Reeves said. “We supplemented the Jones Plant (near Lubbock) and Plant X at Earth with oil” to burn to turn turbines.
The company asked for voluntary conservation Thursday through today due to high demand and reduced production.