Renewable energy production is rapidly expanding across the nation. As it does, horizontal directional drilling contractors have been enlisted to help the effort — especially when navigating difficult terrain.
In Texas — which produces more than one-fifth of the nation’s domestically produced energy — Hard Rock Directional Drilling is now becoming a go-to HDD partner for renewable energy electrical installs. According to Cory Baker, general manager for Hard Rock Directional Drilling, Texas is a hotbed for renewable energy right now, and the engineering procurement and construction (EPC) companies managing the projects and the project owners need contractors familiar with the state’s ground conditions.
“We have oil and gas HDD crews working throughout the country,” said Baker, “but most of our work is done in our backyard, and we’ve been able to plan and execute on some pretty unique jobs. Supporting the construction of wind and solar farms seems like the next natural step for our company, and we have already completed several large projects.”
More than pipeline drilling
After deciding to expand into renewable energy, Hard Rock created a new division under the leadership of long-time employee Cory Seago. As the division manager for renewable energy, Seago is responsible for bidding on new projects and managing the HDD crews doing the work. His first piece of business, though, was making sure his team had the right equipment for the job.
“Hard Rock has a massive equipment fleet — in numbers and size,” Seago said. “However, for renewable energy work, we added three midsize directional drills — Vermeer D40x55 S3 Navigator® horizontal directional drills (HDD) — a pair of Vermeer vacuum excavators, pipe fusing machine and we built three drilling fluid mixing trucks. This fleet is dedicated to our renewable energy team, but if we need bigger drills, we certainly have plenty to choose from.”
The Hard Rock renewable team has completed several large-scale projects in about a year, including helping to lay out the electrical grid for a new solar farm and a wind farm.
HDD starts solar farm installation process
Hard Rock was one of the first crews on the Rayos Del Solar project scene that kicked off in November 2020 in southern Cameron County, Texas, near La Feria.
Before a single pile was driven and solar panel installed, Hard Rock’s crews completed about 20,000 feet (6,096 m) of bores across the 2,000-acre (809.4-ha) plot of land.
“Like on oil and gas projects, what can’t be open-cut because of environmental concerns or existing aboveground infrastructure gets drilled,” Seago said. “HDD was used to install electrical conduit under every river, creek, waterway, road and pipeline.”
HDD work was one of the first phases of the job — even before trenching crews.
Locating underground utility lines
Even though the bores were in rural areas, locating underground utility lines before boring was still an important step.
“It may look like nothing’s out there,” Seago said, “but we did spend time with our Vermeer vacuum excavators potholing a few electrical and fiber lines, as well as pipelines that pass through the area. Once those lines were identified, we could get to work.”
Hard Rock crews used the D40x55 S3 drills to complete all the bores, and Baker said it’s the ideal machine for the ground conditions and distances they were drilling.
“We know how challenging and ever-changing soils can be in this part of Texas,” Baker said. “While the crews didn’t encounter a lot of rock, the area’s sticky clay also needed to be accounted for.”
Hard Rock ran a mixture of bentonite to help prevent clay particles from sticking to tooling and control clay swelling. Seago said crews went heavy on the flow, but the volume of fluid didn’t warrant them bringing in a mud recycling system. Instead, crews used their 800-gallon (3,028.3-L) Vermeer vacs to remove spoils and dispose of them at a site designated by the EPC contractor.
The EPC contractor, PCL Construction Solar Division, was so impressed with Hard Rock’s work, they presented them with a safety award for their commitment to safe drilling practices while exceeding the timeline agreed upon. Their efforts helped keep the overall project on schedule even while some of the other moving pieces fell behind.
Solar or wind installs: Hard Rock Directional Drilling has it covered
Before the Ray Del Sol project, the Hard Rock renewable energy division performed roughly 14,000 feet (4,267.2 m) of bores in just 90 days on a 209-megawatt (209,000-kW) Reloj del Sol wind farm project.
The Reloj del Sol wind farm started producing power in 2021 and Hard Rock was once again one of the first contractors on the job. This job had a bit of a different set up, however. The team from Hard Rock drilled piping to connect all 63 wind turbines across the 600 acres (242.8 ha), instead of laying down a grid.
“The electrical installation work is relatively similar between solar and wind,” Seago said. “We’re just not doing parallel bores in a grid pattern.”
Future in renewable energy
Baker also said that as far as he’s concerned, energy is energy — whether it’s oil, natural gas, wind or solar.
“As Texans, we have a lot of pride in being the nation’s largest producers of energy,” Baker said. “It means we’re doing a great job of using the resources available to us, which includes the robust supplies of oil and natural gas under our land, as well as the sun that shines down and wind that blows across the state. Our role in the process is to make sure those resources get to where they need to go. And we’ll continue to serve in that capacity no matter the energy source.”
This article contains third-party observations, advice or experiences that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vermeer Corporation, its affiliates or its dealers. Testimonials and/or endorsements by customers in specific circumstances may not be representative of normal circumstances experienced by all customers.
Vermeer Corporation reserves the right to make changes in product engineering, design and specifications; add improvements; or discontinue manufacturing or distribution at any time without notice or obligation. Equipment shown is for illustrative purposes only and may display optional accessories or components specific to their global region. Please contact your local Vermeer dealer for more information on machine specifications.
Vermeer and the Vermeer logo are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries. © 2022 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.