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Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s clear interest in renewable energy and New Mexico’s windy eastern plains have created the perfect place for wind-generation potential. For more than a decade, wind power development has been attracting wide-ranging interest from energy developers around the U.S. Moving toward a more sustainable energy environment, the state is positioned to benefit substantially as construction projects with wind power continue to accumulate.

Currently New Mexico ranks as number eight among the U.S. states, with 19.4 percent of all energy produced in the state coming from wind power. Texas leads the nation’s wind energy production with a total installed capacity of 28,843 megawatts in 2019. China, the world leader in wind energy, has in place over a third of the world’s capacity for wind generation. The world’s largest wind farm is located onshore in Gansu Province and has a capacity of 7,965 megawatts—five times larger than its nearest rival.

San Francisco-based Pattern Energy Group LP has recently broken ground on its new 150-mile Western Spirit transmission line and their Western Spirit wind farms located in Guadalupe, Lincoln and Torrance counties. Western Spirit Wind began operations as the Corona Wind Project—however, the company changed the name to distance itself from the coronavirus. The 76-megawatt wind farm built on 16,442 acres has 29 or more wind turbines planned for the site and will generate enough to power for more than 15,000 homes annually and ultimately connect to the planned Western Spirit transmission line. Commercial operation of the developing wind farms is anticipated by the end of 2021. These projects boost Pattern’s energy for sale to more than 4,500 megawatts of wind power being developed or in operation in New Mexico.

Pattern was the winning bidder in a February 2020 public auction for the right to develop nearly 26 square miles in Torrance County and Lincoln counties. The Land Office estimates the wind farm will generate at least $16 million in revenue for public schools and other recipients during the life of the project. As a requirement of the auction, Pattern paid an up-front bonus bid of $395,000 to the Land Office. It also provided bonding coverage for the eventual decommissioning of the wind turbines at the wind farm. Western Spirit Wind consists of three sites in the Corona region: Corona Wind, El Corazon and Clines Corners, the third site just acquired from Orion. The company is also looking into solar energy arrays in the state.

As New Mexico moves toward a more sustainable environment away from the boom-and-bust economy the oil and gas industry produces, it’s critical the state develops renewable resources and related jobs to offset dependence on income from fossil fuels. “Our state wins, because we create high-paying construction jobs, as well as long term jobs managing these sites. … We win by making a dent in New Mexico’s carbon emissions, furthering the state’s efforts to be carbon neutral by 2045,” said New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard in a release. The Western Spirit project represents the eighth wind energy lease signed by Richard since taking office. “We will continue to do our part to diversify the economy by working with renewable energy firms that share our common goal of advancing New Mexico’s renewable energy future.”

Most of New Mexico’s wind development has been concentrated in rural counties in northern and eastern New Mexico. States around us are interested in buying the wind and solar energy that we are able to produce. The New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority stated that one of the big challenges that wind and solar development face in New Mexico is increasing transmission capacity with additional transition lines. Investment in infrastructure development is critical, as none of the renewable energy power in the state will reach energy markets without the adequate infrastructure of a connected grid for renewable energy transmission. Some of the wind power from Pattern’s Broadview facility near Clovis is allotted to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The Western Spirit project is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs for the wind farm and the transmission lines to transport the power.

La Joya II, a 140-megawatt wind farm just west of Encino will supply electricity to the Public Service Company of New Mexico. Avangrid Renewables broke ground on that project in May, alongside the 166 megawatts La Joya I wind farm that PNM plans to use to channel electricity to Facebook’s data center in Los Lunas. “The recent unprecedented challenges facing our state have only strengthened our determination at the Land Office to execute the build-out of New Mexico’s incredible potential for wind energy on the hundreds of thousands of acres of state trust land that are prime for these projects,” Garcia Richard said. “Not only will increased wind power boost our economy for decades while raising valuable revenue for our public schools, it will lessen New Mexico’s dependence on fossil fuels and take on the role of being an important economic vehicle in the recovery fight against COVID-19.”

According to the Wind Energy Association, wind generation and development supports nearly 2,000 local jobs and currently provides about $20 million a year in land lease payments and in-state and local revenue. Other wind energy projects in northern New Mexico include a completed project in Encino with a capacity of 298 megawatts, the Great Divide and the Gladstone wind projects. Combined, these will increase New Mexico’s megawatt capacity substantially, thereby increasing state revenue from renewable projects by over $80 million over the life of the projects.

Wind turbines are considered a clean and sustainable source of power. However, while the electricity they generate has lower CO2-emissions than fossil fuel power plants, they also produce a lot of waste. The lifecycle of a wind turbine blade is about 20 to 25 years. While 99 percent of a turbine’s parts can be recycled and resold, the majority of turbine blades are a challenge, and they end up just being buried in landfill. Research is being done on constructing more sustainable turbine blades out of wood, which was the original construction of windmills across Europe.

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