Photo by Xcel Energy.
A second 115/13.2 kV, 28 MVA transformer and three breaker feeders were added to the Farmers Substation in Amarillo, Texas.

Amarillo Substation Ready for Nature

Jan. 31, 2024
Xcel Energy upgrades its Farmers substation to handle extreme weather in the Texas Panhandle.

Clean, reliable energy and continuous improvement have been Xcel Energy’s mission for decades. The regulated utility serves approximately 3.7 million electricity and 2.1 million natural gas customers across parts of eight Midwestern and Western states. Xcel’s electric utility division has 3.26 million residential customers, 520,000 commercial customers, two transportation customers and 1262 industrial accounts.

The upgrades at Xcel Energy – Texas, a Southwestern Public Service Co., one Xcel’s four utility subsidiaries, speak for themselves. The Texas-based utility, which serves customers in New Mexico and Texas, has invested more than US$2 billion in the regional grid since 2021. In August 2023, it completed a $7.6 million upgrade at its existing Farmers substation, located in Amarillo, Texas, U.S. A new substation transformer and three new feeder lines were added to expand the substation’s capacity to serve a growing number of customers in the southern part of Amarillo, where the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. (EDC) has attracted several new industries. Additionally, new housing continues to be built in the area at a rapid pace.

“As our customer base grows and as businesses use more electricity, it’s vital to ensure the system keeps pace with these changes,” said Adrian J. Rodriguez, president of Xcel Energy – Texas. “Equally important is making sure the lights can stay on no matter what nature throws at us, and these ongoing system investments have proved their worth during multiple extreme weather events the past two years.”

Handling The Panhandle

Weather in the Texas Panhandle can be brutal, including frigid-cold temperatures, blizzards, dust storms, wildfires, flooding, tornadoes and, most recently an extended period of triple-digit temperatures. Xcel Energy’s toughest weather events in the last decade have been brought on by ice, wind and heavy snow — oftentimes experiencing all three in the same event.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), snowfall averages 17.9 inches (45.5 cm) annually in Amarillo. “The Amarillo area is subject to extreme and rapid temperature changes, especially during the fall and winter months when cold fronts from the northern Rocky Mountain and Plains states sweep across the area,” the NWS website states. “Temperature drops of 50°F to 60°F within a 12-hour period are not uncommon. Temperature drops of 40°F have occurred within a few minutes.”

To weather harden its system and accommodate the growing population in the southern part of Amarillo, Xcel Energy took extra measures to make the Farmers substation more efficient and reliable, and as Rodriquez said, able to handle “whatever nature throws at it.” As part of this expansion project, a second 115/13.2-kV, 28-MVA transformer and three new feeder lines were added to free up capacity on existing stations and provide additional switching options to keep power flowing when extreme weather threatens reliability. To combat extreme weather, crews installed above-grade, rigid overhead conductor inside the new substation. In addition, Xcel crews installed wildlife protection on the new transformer. The utility also targeted several older neighborhoods for voltage conversions, with the goal of bringing every neighborhood in line with a standard voltage.

The Farmers substation upgrade is one of several investments in the Amarillo and Canyon, Texas, metro area designed to improve reliability. Other projects have included the new Echo substation to boost reliability in northern Amarillo, new Center Port substation to shift electric loads and free up more capacity while priming this industrial sector of Amarillo for additional growth opportunities, and a rebuilt Lawrence Park substation to improve the reliability and capacity of this power hub for west-central Amarillo neighborhoods and commercial districts. In addition, in southwest Amarillo, Xcel completed the Preston West substation and associated distribution lines southeast of Loop 335, freeing up capacity at nearby substations while ensuring continued growth without the concern of overloading existing facilities.

Economic Impact

Kevin Carter, president and CEO of the Amarillo EDC, said, “The recent power system investments coincided with development plans for several new and expanded businesses that benefited from the Amarillo EDC’s incentive programs.”

In the South Georgia Business Park alone, the Amarillo EDC has attracted $200 million in capital investments responsible for 350 new jobs at three new facilities, including Cacique Cheese, Austin Hose and Caviness Beef.

The Farmers substation project ensures these and future businesses in the area will have the capacity they need to grow.

“Low electricity rates and high reliability are big draws for companies choosing to relocate or expand in Amarillo,” Carter said. “The investments Xcel Energy has made in substation and distribution infrastructure have been critical to our efforts to attract 3000 new jobs and over $2 billion in capital investment over the past two years.”

Additional expansions and upgrades are planned in Amarillo and outlying cities, including two new substations. They include a new Arnot substation to boost reliability and capacity in the Bushland and west Amarillo area and an Ashby substation in eastern Dalhart to serve new commercial customers and provide additional switching options.

Perry Foster is regional director of Substation O&M, Transmission Field Operations at Xcel Energy in Amarillo, Texas, where he is responsible for providing leadership, strategic direction, and daily operation direction for all activities that support substation maintenance, operations, construction and pre-commissioning. He oversees the effective and efficient use of union and nonunion resources, with an emphasis on safety, human performance, reliability, customer satisfaction and compliance.  Foster’s previous roles at the utility have included relay technician, working foreman, substation electrician working foreman and meter reader. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in management from Oklahoma Panhandle State University and an associate degree in electronics from Amarillo College, he is currently pursuing an MBA degree from Wayland Baptist University.

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