First Cross-Border Mexican Wind Farm Powers American HomesAs California’s utilities face the deadline to produce one-third of their power from renewable sources by 2020, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is tapping into one of the strongest wind resources on the West Coast: the Sierra de Juárez mountain range in Baja California, Mexico.

The more than 155 MW Energía Sierra Juárez (ESJ) wind farm, which began commercial operation early last year, is the first cross-border wind farm between Mexico and the United States. Power generated from the 47 wind turbines in Tecate, Baja California, is purchased and used by SDG&E to supply electricity to approximately 65,000 homes and businesses in San Diego County.

The wind farm is owned and operated by a 50-50 partnership between InterGen and Infraestructura Energetica Nova (IEnova), the Mexico-based subsidiary of Sempra Energy, a San Diego-based energy holding company.

New Renewable Energy Options for U.S. Utilities

Although other wind farms straddle the U.S.-Mexico border running from California to Texas, none supply electricity to customers on the other side of the international border. Because of this, the ESJ wind farm project is pioneering new renewable energy options for the United States.

As the availability of tax incentives for wind power becomes less dependable in the U.S., and with Mexico’s conducive regulatory environment, Mexico may become a more viable option for American utilities planning for the future of wind-power construction.

A Boon to the Mexican Economy

The 13,100-acre first phase has already provided both short-term construction jobs and long-term lease payments to the area’s land owners, who previously had reaped little financial benefit from the harsh landscape. ESJ’s $300 million construction process employed nearly 650 workers during the peak building stages.

In addition to the main turbines, a 4.8-mile transmission line was erected to deliver power to the U.S. If fully built out as originally proposed, ESJ will generate up to 1,250 MW of energy — enough to power half a million homes and businesses in San Diego County. The entire wind farm development is also expected to contribute nearly $750 million back to the local economy and create more than 400 permanent jobs.

A Challenging Environmental and Political Landscape

As with many international projects, the ESJ wind project faced a number of challenges, ranging from siting issues in the area’s mountainous terrain to coordinating with agencies in multiple states and counties. There was also the daunting task of transporting major wind turbine and transmission equipment from the U.S. into Mexico for the first time.

Typically, it takes about four years to fully develop and construct a major wind farm, but faced with an onslaught of unique challenges, the timeline for completing the ESJ project nearly doubled.

Originally started by another developer in 2006, ESJ was ultimately bought by Sempra two years later. After realizing the magnitude of the challenges at hand, Sempra made the decision to bring Burns & McDonnell on as its owner’s engineer to help with development support, environmental permitting services, engineering and construction support.

In our role as owner’s engineer, we also provided support for turbine micro-siting, preliminary design, wind resource assessments, noise studies, commercial negotiation support, detailed engineering reviews, financing support, on-site construction monitoring and much more.

A Powerful Future

The initial phase of the ESJ project is already off to a booming start. The project is actively delivering clean, renewable — and affordable — power to Southern California, and is expected to continue doing so for decades to come. While California has made a major push for more renewable energy, further expansion will likely depend on Mexican utilities becoming larger customers.

Our team has supported the development, design and construction of more than 200 wind projects across North America, covering a total capacity of more than 50,000 MW. As wind projects advance into increasingly complex environments, we’ll continue to utilize our rich industry experience to minimize challenges and establish long-standing success for projects like ESJ.

While ESJ was a first-of-its-kind project, it certainly won’t be the last. If you’d like to learn more about the opportunities and challenges of international power projects, let’s talk about the potential that’s out there — feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

Aaron Anderson is a Senior Mechanical Engineer and Project Manager in Burns & McDonnell’s Renewable Energy Group. He specializes in financial and engineering analyses of renewable energy projects, and has directly supported more than 20 GW of power generation projects, including more than 15 GW of renewable energy development.

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Resilient and Energy Efficient National Guard Readiness CentersCreating resilient and energy-efficient facilities is vital for the future of the Department of Defense. For the Army National Guard (ARNG), that means creating places where soldiers can plan, train, perform missions and provide a community-centric location in case of emergencies. The average age of most readiness centers, or armories as they’re sometimes called, is more than 50 years old. Today’s challenge is to design durable facilities for the future in a cost-effective way while also providing solutions that have lower everyday operating costs. Readiness centers need a design that supports a full-time staff or the core of the assigned National Guard units, but also must have the capacity for the entire unit to operate from the facility during training and supporting missions. They also serve as the place where families gather and receive communications when their loved ones are deployed. And in order to do all of this, a modern, high-tech, flexible and secure facility is needed.

As the ARNG’s missions have grown, the need for our soldiers to remain ready for action quickly has outpaced the building technology and infrastructure requirements that support them. Aging facilities were designed as a place for operating units to prepare for mobilization. They were not designed to maintain soldiers’ high level of readiness and response to support missions. Because, in aging facilities, it can be challenging and cost-prohibitive to provide a secure environment to perform the mission, many ARNG units are turning to new facilities.

Designing to Support ARNG Missions

Earlier this year, the new 64,500-square-foot Ben Franklin Readiness Center (RC) opened at Minnesota’s Arden Hills Army Training Site (AHATS). The RC consolidated several units of the Minnesota Army National Guard (MN ARNG) in a single facility designed to support training, perform operations and provide maximum response flexibility for performing diverse missions.

Our team dedicated our efforts to listening to what features MN ARNG would need in the facility, one that would address future operating requirements, like reducing everyday energy costs. The new facility provides a space tailored to support each mission’s unique operating environment, including collaboration areas, flexible classrooms, security, simulation training spaces and communications infrastructure in compliance with ARNG Design Guides and DoD Unified Facility Criteria, which included antiterrorism and force protection measures.

The facility also includes features typically found in a readiness center: an assembly hall, classrooms, a learning center, storage units with vaults, and individual locker storage. Administrative areas contain a mixture of command and control spaces with private offices for each unit and large, open plan workstation areas configured for a collaborative work environment to meet the flexible mission response.

Designed to Keep Energy Costs Low

Today’s design parameters call for meeting the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED)’s Silver level, which focuses on energy savings calculated from a baseline model. While this is a great starting point for design, our team went a step further toward making this design remarkable. To go beyond, the project delivery team found that the average MN ARNG facility’s energy use was about $1.08 per square foot per year — and used this as a challenge to reduce the average energy cost as much as feasibly possible without affecting soldiers’ missions or training performance, while also saving future taxpayer dollars. To sweeten the challenge was the fact that the AHATS RC is located in Minnesota, one of the coldest regions in the country.

A Holistic Approach to Reducing Energy Costs

The design team looked at a systematic approach and design target to lower the Energy Usage Intensity (EUI), which is the total number of British Thermal Units (BTUs) used by the facility divided by the building’s square footage. The lower the EUI, the better.

The first thing to look at when lowering energy usage is the building’s physical orientation. In this case, the building was situated in a direction that takes full advantage of passive solar gain, maximizes sunlight exposure, avoids cold northern winds by reducing the number of building openings on that side, and takes advantage of prevailing winds for natural ventilation.

After that, the team looked at the building envelope, including the facility’s materials, insulation, doors, windows, roof construction and sealing tightness. The building was tested during construction with a pressurized system to confirm that the building met weather-tightness standards.

The next focus was improving the facility’s natural lighting with the addition of high windows that not only would provide light but also add a dimension of security to prevent direct observation of operations. Natural light and lighting fixtures were coordinated to operate with a daylighting control system, in which the high-efficiency light fixtures would be dimmed when natural light provided the required brightness.

The project also includes other energy-saving items:

  • A geothermal exchange with heat pumps, to provide a carbon fuel-free heating and cooling solution.
  • Flexible open offices and classrooms, allowing spaces within the readiness center to be configured to support changes in missions and organization. These flexible spaces also provide natural lighting by eliminating the need for light blocking walls.
  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures, reducing annual water consumption by 43 percent.
  • Roof-mounted, solar water heating panels, projected to offset 51 percent of the facility’s annual requirements for hot water.
  • Building automation and zoning features, controlling which portions of the building are conditioned during off-peak occupancy.
  • Use of building commissioning, confirming proper installation and functioning of systems and that the MN ARNG expectations would be met.

The end result? A new facility that cut the MN ARNG’s annual energy costs by 41.6 percent. The current annual energy cost of $0.52/SF meets and exceeds the MN ARNG’s goal of having an annual average below $1.08/SF.

Design and Focus to a Target EUI

Many of the energy-efficient design strategies that we used can also be applied to designing new facilities and renovating existing readiness centers. The key is to set an EUI target early on in the design process and keep the team focused on reaching that goal. Such efforts not only result in a lower EUI, but also establish a benchmark for tracking future energy-consumption trends.

If you want to look at reducing future energy costs in facilities through energy audits, commissioning or design, I’d love to talk more about how our team can help develop innovative solutions to secure your facilities and save taxpayers money. Shoot me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn to learn more.

Pete Karnowski is a senior project manager for Burns & McDonnell specializing in the planning, design and construction of Army National Guard facilities. Want to know more about projects we are performing? Connect with Pete on LinkedIn.

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Threatened and Endangered Species: Golden-Cheeked Warbler & Black-Capped Vireo

by Gary Newgord August 16, 2016

The golden-cheeked warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia) and the black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla) are two species of small, insectivorous birds facing the threat of population decline due to habitat destruction. Noted for being the only bird species to nest exclusively in Texas, the golden-cheeked warbler resides in the Ashe juniper-oak woodlands of central Texas and is typically […]

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FERC Notice of Inquiry: Cyber Systems in Control Centers

by Michael C. Johnson August 11, 2016

Under Docket RM16-18-000, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on Cyber Systems in Control Centers to collect industry input on possible modifications for the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Reliability Standards focused on cybersecurity for Control Centers that monitor and control the nation’s Bulk Electric System (BES). The NOI […]

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NERC CIP Low Impact — Electronic Access Controls, Comment & Ballot

by Michael C. Johnson August 3, 2016

As I detailed in my previous posts on the Electronic Access Control and subsequent posting on the proposed modifications, the Standard Drafting Team (SDT) charged with working on the FERC-ordered Low Impact External Routable Connectivity (LERC) modifications has released its proposed definition changes for industry comment and balloting. In this latest installment, I will provide […]

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NERC CIP Low Impact Requirements — Electronic Access Controls, Proposed Modifications

by Michael C. Johnson July 22, 2016

As noted in my previous post on the Electronic Access Control, I indicated that the Standard Drafting Team (SDT) charged with working on the FERC-ordered Low Impact External Routable Connectivity (LERC) modifications was in the process of completing its initial revisions to be submitted for industry comment and balloting. This update summarizes the most important […]

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