Huge wind project under development in central New Mexico | Local News

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One of the largest wind energy projects in the world is being launched in central New Mexico, a giant leap forward for the state’s role in renewable energy.

Project supervisor Pattern Energy has already completed a project in New Mexico called Western Spirit that will provide power to Los Angeles, San Jose and other cities in California. Pattern Energy has scheduled a larger project in New Mexico, called SunZia, for completion in early 2026.

Proponents say the potential for wind power could bring about profound change in New Mexico, allowing two things it has in abundance – endless gusts and huge swathes of empty land – to be put to broad use. to create energy and earn money.

The wind, an adversary during this tragic New Mexico wildfire season, could be tamed and turned into a source of electricity for this state and others, supporters say. And with climate change a growing threat, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are in demand.

Dan Bell, a fifth-generation cattle rancher north of the town of Corona in central New Mexico, said renting property to Pattern Energy so it can erect wind turbines gives his family a particularly important income in case of drought.

“Most people are for them, but obviously there are people who don’t like a change in the landscape,” Bell said of the wind turbines towering nearby. “We’re just happy to have the opportunity to get some extra income that doesn’t come directly from [agriculture].”

The change in the abundant views around Corona bothers some in the area, who note that the structures – which can range in height from 200 to 450 feet tall – can be seen from great distances. Duane Frost, a cattle rancher near Claunch, west of Corona, said the wind turbines are visible from a hill on his land.

“I don’t like them,” he said. “They are ugly, the lights flash all night. … You’re used to a virgin country, and here are all these turbines in the middle of everywhere.

Frost is president of the Central New Mexico Electric Cooperative, which he says derives little benefit from wind projects.

Lincoln County Commissioner Todd Proctor, who lives in the small town of Capitan, said Friday he had also heard complaints from ranchers about surveyors walking on private land and turbines and transmission lines being “horrors”.

But Proctor said overall the technology is viewed positively in the region.

“I think he got good funding that we never would have had,” he said.

Pattern Energy projects generate revenue through taxes and land leases, said Stephen Fischmann of Las Cruces, one of five members of the Public Regulatory Commission.

During a recent discussion of the projects at a CRP meeting, Fischmann called the projects “a momentous step forward” for energy in New Mexico.

Commission Chairman Joseph Maestas of Santa Fe said the projects will have “long-term implications for the renewable energy industry here in the state.”

The first phase of work, Western Spirit, has been completed and can produce 1,050 megawatts of energy. The second, SunZia, will be in the same region as Western Spirit and will produce at least 3,000 megawatts, according to Pattern Energy. Portions of one or both projects will be in Lincoln, Torrance, Guadalupe and San Miguel counties.

The two projects combined will produce more than 4,000 megawatts at full capacity, about double the megawatts generated at peak load by New Mexico’s Public Service Company.

Ali Bidram, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of New Mexico, said the state “has a lot of potential for wind power generation.”

In 2021, wind power accounted for 30% of New Mexico’s electricity generation, five times more than in 2015. The state ranks sixth in the nation for the share of wind in electricity production in the state, the federal Energy Information Administration reported.

The projects require many kilometers of transmission lines to transport the energy.

A spokesperson for the SunZia Southwest transmission project, which the state’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority co-owns, said the transmission line from central New Mexico to southern Arizona is in course since 2006. Developers are updating the route, which requires reviews, he says.

Bryan Bird, the Southwest director of Defenders of Wildlife, based in Santa Fe, said the developers of the Western Spirit and SunZia projects have seriously garnered community and wildlife advocacy contributions.

There are effects from turbines and transmission lines, such as habitat alteration and bird collisions with technology, he added.

“Can we reduce or mitigate them to a point where we can accept these impacts?” said the bird. “Overall, I think so.” Transmission lines usually run above ground, but technologies such as ultraviolet lights are being developed to reduce bird collisions.

A Pattern Energy spokesperson wrote in an email that the Western Spirit project contains 377 wind turbines or windmills. SunZia is expected to include 950 wind turbines.

PRC Hearing Examiner Anthony Medeiros recently said that Western Spirit is the single largest single-phase – built-at-one-time – wind project in North America.

Pattern Energy, privately owned by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, is expected to own one of the largest wind power projects in the world by the time SunZia is built, Medeiros said.

During a recent briefing with the commissioners, Medeiros referred to the overall initiative as the Corona wind project. Pattern Energy, however, said this month that the permit side of the project was called Corona, but the company now calls it separate projects, Western Spirit and SunZia.

PNM announced late last year that it had purchased the Western Spirit transmission line to distribute wind power. The line is 155 miles long and runs in a square “U” shape south from Bernalillo County through Valencia County, east into Torrance County and north to the border of Santa Fe and San Miguel counties.

Much of the power carried by the transmission line will go to California. But PNM said New Mexico would also benefit, especially when backup power is needed.

In a written statement, PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval said the company “supports the expansion of renewable energy in New Mexico, regardless of builder. Indeed, these projects provide short-term jobs and also pay long-term property taxes, which can help our counties, cities and states.

“New Mexico is uniquely positioned not only to meet all of our own electricity needs, but also to supply western states with renewable energy,” he continued. “These projects illustrate the great potential for expanding renewable energy in New Mexico and also demonstrate the need for new transmission lines to unlock this potential.”

Shad Cox, superintendent of New Mexico State University’s Corona Range and Livestock Research Center, said he expects scientists and graduate students to work with Pattern Energy to restore the project area. SunZia in its natural state, to the best of their abilities.

The project is accompanied by roads, equipment drop-off areas and, of course, wind turbines.

He said Pattern was leasing land from the university for the Western Spirit project. The NMSU research center grazes cattle, goats and sheep in the area, he said, and the wind power project has not required changes to grazing practices.

Bell, the rancher near Corona, said Pattern Energy provided money for Corona High School graduates to attend college.

One of his daughters and son are recent graduates of Eastern New Mexico University, he said, and they plan to be the family’s sixth generation on the ranch.

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