Improvements at Horse Butte and Birch Creek radio stations will support future expansion of area wind generating facilities.

We did this with BPA resources, not contracting. As this allowed BPA to get the upgrades done more quickly and for less money. 

Dave Belcher, BPA communications engineer
Late last year, BPA’s Idaho Falls district completed critical upgrades to the Horse Butte and Birch Creek radio stations to solve communications errors between BPA and nearby wind generating facilities from Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems.

The 6-GHz digital radio equipment, originally installed in 2013, was replaced with new a 7/8-GHz system. Work also included the installation of a 30-foot radio tower extension at Horse Butte and a 40-foot tower extension at Birch Creek to increase clearances and improve path reliability.

These radio stations help BPA control, operate, dispatch and maintain the transmission system. The contiguous communication path between Birch Creek and Horse Butte includes information for Remedial Action Schemes, transfer trips and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. If there’s too much loading on the local Palisades-Cattle Creek transmission line, the communications path enables BPA to reduce UAMPS’ Horse Butte wind farm output.

The timing of these upgrades comes as UAMPS seeks to increase the generation capacity at the Horse Butte Wind Power Generating Facility from its existing 56 MWs up to 100 MWs. With more generation in the area, communications path stability is imperative. 

“We wanted to get the project completed before the wintertime in fiscal year 2023, so UAMPS can look at expanding their wind generation in 2024 and 2025,” said Mark Ikderd, an electronics engineer in BPA’s project engineering group.

According to Dave Belcher, a BPA communications engineer in the Idaho Falls district, communication errors and false alarms have been intermittent, but consistent from these sites. This is due to issues with the radio path stability and the need for radio frequency diversity. 

“It wasn’t reliable to operate the RAS circuits,” said Ikerd. “When you need to shed load, if the communications path is not reliable or goes down at that moment, they can’t drop load like they should.” 
Measures had been taken over the years to improve the radio signal, such as changing the modulation scheme, but none fully solved the problem.

“It had been a known issue for eight years,” said Belcher. “There’s been lots of improvements to it, but it never was solved in its entirety. After talking with SMEs, the solution was to replace it with true frequency diversity radios.”

Telecommunication project completed in house

To begin construction before the arrival of the Idaho winter, the project was designated an emergency replacement project, allowing it to move forward with a speed atypical for BPA telemetry projects. In fact, this was the first telemetry project to be completed entirely in house. 

“If a project goes through the general scoping path, it usually takes a lot longer,” said Ikerd. “We were able to bypass (the contracting) and went right to design.” 

In addition to the design, BPA took on the new challenge of completing the construction instead of contracting it out. This included the purchasing and tracking of supplies. 

“It’s been a long time since BPA ordered towers,” said Ikerd. “We had to relearn how to purchase them.” 

“We did this with BPA resources, not contracting,” said Belcher, as this allowed BPA to get the upgrades done more quickly and for less money. “We had BPA order the materials and were able to finish the project for less than the price of the contracts I’ve seen.”

Due to the success of Horse Butte and Birch Creek upgrades, plans are underway to replicate this process for other telecommunication projects later this year. 

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