Inside the Turbine

0
485

Watching Wind Become Power at the Magic Valley Wind Farm

What started with picturesque wooden windmills in Holland has transformed into a full-fledged industry in the Rio Grande Valley.   At E.ON North America’s Magic Valley Wind Farm, based in Raymondville,  over 100 modern turbines harness the power of the wind around the clock. On average, the idyllic rotation of a single wind turbine’s blades at the Magic Valley Wind Farm produce 17 megawatts of energy a day. That’s 17 million daily units of power, enough to light up about 170,000 light bulbs or 2,400 homes. This is the power of wind energy, and its impact goes beyond the grid. We spoke with the folks at Magic Valley to learn more about wind energy and its future as a renewable energy resource for our community.

One of the first things we learned is that wind energy and the Valley are made for each other. “The wind patterns here actually match the energy demand curve,” says Tracy Deadman, the site operations supervisor at Magic Valley Wind Farm. Tracy has worked in wind energy for over fourteen years. “It’s truly remarkable. All year, morning-to-night temperature changes make the gulf wind stronger in the afternoons, right around the time we see the demand for power increase. So right when you need more power – when kids are getting home from school and air conditioners are being turned on, etc. – you have it.”

Not all regions are so lucky. The wind energy industry has been criticized for creating power in places so remote that the cost of transporting it nearly outweighs the benefits (looking at you, North Dakota). But here in the Valley, wind energy is put to use right where it’s made. Furthermore, as our community continues to grow, there will only be more demand for power. It’s pretty convenient that one of most viable renewable energy sources is produced right in our backyard.

Gabriel Hinojosa, one of the highly-trained (and brave) technicians who scales the wind turbines at Magic Valley, agrees. “I’ve witnessed the impact this industry has had on my community,” the Harlingen native says. “Building this farm alone brought over 200 construction jobs to the region. And as far as permanent jobs go, there’s about 20 of us here full-time.”

IMG_4119

Tracy adds that dozens of secondary jobs came with the wind farm too, from maintenance staff to road crews and more. The wind energy’s community impact doesn’t stop there. Local schools like Texas Southmost College now offer programs in wind engineering, and tax revenue from Magic Valley and farms alike has grown the community coffers.

The economic benefits of our local wind industry are as admirable as they are appreciated. Seeing them in action inspires a curiosity; we want to know more about those turbines.

A wind turbine up close is truly breathtaking. The ones at Magic Valley stand 80 meters high from base to nose. Three massive wings spread outward from the center; when they spin, they draw a circle whose diameter is just under 300 feet across. In action, they’re taller than the Statue of Liberty. To stand in a field of these steel giants is unlike anything else. One can’t help but imagine what aliens would think of our civilization if their first stop was a wind farm.

Incredibly, Gabe and Tracy actually climb these things. Regularly. Tracy joined the “2k Club” – as in 2,000 turbines scaled – over ten years ago. “Things were much different when I started,” he tells us. “Safety equipment was pretty minimal. We just climbed the things, did our work, and climbed back down.” To date, he estimates he’s gone up over 3,000 times.

These days, it’s Gabe who’s adding climbs to his record.  He can ascend the 267-foot tower with confidence, as today’s safety standards are some of the most stringent around. “We take safety very seriously now. It’s the first thing we talk about each morning and the last thing we go over each night.” In between, Gabe can be found in the turbine’s steely innards. His job is ensuring each massive structure is working at top efficiency. “I never get tired of working on these machines that take wind and turn it into power. It’s amazing.”

It is amazing. The fact that humans can harness wind to create power is simply remarkable, as is the way wind energy has progressed.  But wind energy is far from perfect. “We’re still seen as a supplemental power source,” Tracy tells us. “The next big step is creating technology that improves storing and transporting wind power.”

That development doesn’t seem too far fetched now that climate change is a household word. Until then, we’ll continue to enjoy our growing reputation as a renewable energy frontier. Who knows – maybe the next big thing in wind energy will come from right here in the Rio Grande Valley.