A John Deere Publication

Spriggs Excavation of Durango, Colorado, is running a large fleet of John Deere dozers, excavators, and motor graders to clear areas for the Orion II project – a massive utility-scale solar project – which spans 1,843 acres in Texas. As the civil excavation contractor on the project, Spriggs Excavation is responsible for all of the site development and underground work.

Spring 2024

Big and Bright


Solar energy runs deep in the heart of Texas

Clock Icon 8 MIN READ

According to the old song, the stars at night are big and bright in Texas. The sun shines bright, too. Florida may be known as the Sunshine State, but with abundant land and sunshine, Texas has emerged as a leader in alternative energy, including solar.

The Lone Star State is already the largest renewable energy producer in the U.S., generating twice as much as the second-highest-producing state, Florida. Texas produces the most wind power of any state and is second only to California in the generation of solar energy.

Everything is bigger in Texas

Orion is one of the prominent constellations visible in the Texas sky. It’s also the name of a massive utility-scale solar project.

Spanning 1,843 acres, the Orion II project offers enormous potential for delivering renewable energy. When complete, the massive site will be covered by approximately 3,300 solar panels, generating 302 megawatts. That’s enough energy to power over 450,000 households. It’s also enough to replace two large-scale coal-fired power plants that were recently decommissioned.

But right now, there is a lot of work to be done. Spriggs Excavation of Durango, Colorado, is running a large fleet of John Deere dozers, excavators, and motor graders to clear areas for the arrays and build access roads as well as substation and switchyard roads.

As the civil excavation contractor on the project, Spriggs Excavation is responsible for all of the site development and underground work. The company has completed three other large-scale solar projects in Texas. “The future is bright for the solar energy sector and for our company, no pun intended,” says Sam Loughman, chief operating officer, Spriggs Excavation. “There is a substantial amount of activity in utility-scale solar development.”


Rising sun

Solar energy is the most abundant renewable-energy source available. In an hour and a half, the amount of sunlight striking the earth could meet the entire world’s energy needs for a year.

Until recently, harnessing that energy in a big way has proven elusive. In 2010, solar and wind combined for only 1.7 percent of electricity generation. But falling costs and improvements in solar technology have spurred widespread deployment. Solar alone accounts for four percent of energy generation today. It could account for as much as 30 percent of electricity generation in the U.S. by 2030, according to industry estimates.

Spriggs Excavation has seen a dramatic increase in infrastructure-development work related to wind- and solar-energy projects. For the last decade, the company has focused on electrical-infrastructure development, including substations, the power grid, and right-of-way work. But over the last three years, the company has shifted its emphasis to the renewable sector. “Currently 95 percent of our work is in this sector, which is very strong,” says Loughman.

Sustainable solutions for solar projects

Orion II demands reliable iron capable of moving massive amounts of earth. Spriggs Excavation runs 12 John Deere machines on the project, including 750L and 850L Dozers, 772GP Motor Graders, and 210G and 350G LC Excavators.

The toughest job on the project is “mucking out” ponds. Deere dozers and excavators are invaluable to this arduous process. The machines drain the ponds of water, then continue to dig until hard ground is found. The material is dried until it reaches the right consistency before the machines place it back to the desired height.

Superintendent Scott Nugent has been impressed by the Deere dozers. “I’ve run similar-size competitor machines, and they run hot in this climate,” he observes. “I’ve been pushing the Deere dozers through everything, and they hold their own.”

The project also demands accuracy. “Much of our work, such as electrical substations, must conform to high tolerances using very expensive rock,” says Loughman. “SmartGrade™ grade-control technology helps us get to grade in fewer passes, saving rework and reducing wasted material and cost.”

Spriggs Excavation has used SmartGrade for a number of years. “We’re definitely at the forefront of technology,” says Loughman. “And we’re very in tune with sustainability. We’re always looking at new technologies to help us reduce our carbon footprint.”

The company has been demoing a hybrid John Deere 850 X-Tier Dozer. “It’s a great sustainable alternative,” says  Loughman.

The 850 X-Tier delivers multiple operating modes to tailor performance and fuel consumption to the specific jobsite. This E-Drive machine features an electrified drivetrain with an engine as the primary power source. E-Drive machines enable better fuel economy than traditional models. “We have to fuel up the other dozers every day,” says Nugent. “I can go two days on a tank of diesel because it’s hybrid.”

The 850 X-Tier also delivers more than enough pushing power to handle the muck. “When the dealer dropped it off, he told me to run the heck out of it,” recalls Nugent. “So I did. I took it straight to the ponds because that is our hardest application.”

Nugent had his doubts: “Being electric, I thought it would be weaker than the hydraulic, but it really surprised and impressed me. It has more than enough power to push out all of the slop. And it’s a great finish dozer. The blade control is outstanding.”

Support across many states

Working on large projects often in multiple states, Spriggs Excavation depends on the vast John Deere dealer network. “It’s critical to keep these machines up and running,” says Loughman. “Support and service from our dealers has been phenomenal.”

Before joining Spriggs Excavation, Fleet Manager Lake Leath worked for Honnen Equipment, the company’s local dealership in Durango, Colorado. He loves his current role on the other side of the dealer-customer relationship: “Being in charge of a fleet and keeping it running has been an awesome experience.”

Leath manages around 200 assets, including over 30 Deere machines. The John Deere Connected Support™ allows him to track equipment, see which machines are working, and know if they’re being utilized at maximum productivity and efficiency. The system also helps Leath track preventative maintenance schedules and machine locations while providing alerts about any machine issues. Using remote diagnostics, local dealers, including Honnen and RDO Equipment Co., can warn him of any issues before they become bigger problems.

“Machine Monitoring allows my people to view the code, determine the issue, get the right parts ordered, and perform the necessary repairs,” he says. “If the machine is having trouble in the field, we can see that fault code live. We can often diagnose and resolve the issue over the phone without having to send a technician to a site.”

The Operations Center has also helped Leath deal with idle time. “Keeping that down helps us save money,” he says. “If we have an underutilized machine, we can look at other jobsites and see where it would be more productive for us.

“Connected Support is great,” he adds. “It provides the support we need as we grow and add more John Deere machines to handle all of this renewable-energy work ahead of us. In the future, hybrid equipment like the 850 X-Tier will help us reduce fuel consumption, boost productivity and continue to help ensure a sustainable future for everyone.”

Spriggs Excavation, Inc. is serviced on the Orion II project by RDO® Equipment Co., Irving, Texas.

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