|Photo Credit: Robert Forster
New Mexico, nicknamed the Land of Enchantment,
is rapidly becoming the "Land of Windchantment."
There is a veritable wind land rush taking place
in the state, with a plethora of wind developers
signing wind power leases with ranchers across the
Some New Mexico landowners
have grouped together for a stronger negotiating
position with wind developers, an example
being the Corona Landowners Association (South
and North groups), which hold together hundreds
of thousands of acres. Most New Mexicans realize
the importance of developing clean renewable
energy resources and the need for energy independence.
New Mexico is ranked 12th nationally in terms
of wind energy potential, with about 50,000 megawatts
(MW) of identified resource according to the National
Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). By coincidence,
the state is also ranked 12th in the U.S. for wind
farm installations, with a total of 497 MW of installed
capacity. Edison Mission Group (EMG) is now in the
process of developing the 100-MW High Lonesome Mesa
Wind Farm in eastern New Mexico using Clipper turbines.
New Mexico has the highest per capita wind energy
usage of any state in the country, and Public Service
Company of New Mexico (PNM) has one of the highest
percentages of wind grid penetration of any utility,
with about four percent of its annual energy production
coming from wind. And at times, as much as 20 percent
of the load is carried by wind when it's really
blowing. Besides the clean power benefits, the other
big advantage of wind power is that it does not
require water for power generation, which for the
arid Southwest is always a critical issue.
There are more than two dozen active wind developers
in New Mexico. The existing windfarms were developed
by Cielo Wind Power, a subsidiary of Texas Wind
Power, FPL Energy, Babcock and Brown and Padoma
Wind Power, with power from wind being sold to Xcel
Energy, Arizona Public Service and PNM.
Windy land in New Mexico is becoming a highly sought
after commodity as wind developers sign leases with
hundreds of landowners. Shell Wind Energy and First
Wind have already signed agreements with landowners
in central New Mexico near Corona.
Energy Resources has purchased large tracts of
land near Santa Rosa. GreenHunter Wind Energy and
Penn Real Estate have also signed wind leases. Other
companies active with New Mexico wind energy exploration
and development include Acciona, Clipper, enXco,
DKRW/Carbon Neutral, GEC, Gold Pack Power, Iberdrola,
Invenergy, Horizon Wind Energy and Taos Wind Power.
The New Mexico State University Institute for Energy
and the Environment is monitoring the wind resource
on lands owned by the University, as well as NASA
and Fort Bliss.
New Mexicans have, so far, looked favorably on
wind power development as it is clean power, provides
local jobs and increases the tax base. New Mexico
ranchers already receive about US $1.8 million/year
for leasing their lands to existing wind farms.
In general, ranchers have had very few issues with
placing wind turbines on their land because the
footprint of the wind farm including roads takes
up only about 10 percent of the total land area
leaving most of the ranch available for livestock
The main concern that ranchers have expressed relates
to the restoration of any land that is disturbed
during the construction of the wind farm and the
request that service roads and noxious weeds be
kept to a minimum.
Apparently, New Mexico cows like wind turbines
as they can often be found lining up for the only
shade available on the plains from the wind turbine
towers to escape the summer heat.
Some New Mexico landowners have grouped together
for a stronger negotiating position with wind developers,
an example being the Corona Landowners Association
(South and North groups), which hold together hundreds
of thousands of acres. Most New Mexicans realize
the importance of developing clean renewable energy
resources and the need for energy independence.
Transmission Stands in the Way
Electric transmission is the greatest challenge
for wind farm development in the Southwest and major
transmission development will be required in order
to fully tap New Mexico's wind power potential.
New Mexico Governor Richardson has been very supportive
of new wind farm development and in building new
transmission to serve the power markets. To this
end, last year the state created the Renewable Energy
Transmission Authority (RETA) to help facilitate
expansion of the transmission grid in the state
for development of wind and other renewable resources.
RETA has begun to explore several opportunities
and specific proposals. There are two large-scale
transmission proposals under consideration: SunZia
Southwest Transmission and the High Plains Express
Transmission; both of which are designed to bring
power to the large urban markets in Phoenix and
Since about half of New Mexican land is owned by
the federal government, agencies such as the Bureau
of Land Management (BLM) often play a key role when
it comes to wind farm and transmission development.
There are over 8,000 MW of proposed wind projects
in New Mexico that have been submitted for transmission
planning to PNM. Of course, not all of these proposals
will bear fruit, but if only a quarter are successful,
that represents over 2,000 MW of new wind generation
the will be coming online during the next decade.
To put this in perspective, PNM currently has about
2,300 MW of total electric generation capacity.
The amount of wind and other renewable generation
needed to meet New Mexico's Renewable Portfolio
Standard is modest, as there are only 2 million
New Mexicans. Most of New Mexico wind power is destined
for the California and Arizona markets to help these
states meet their Renewable Portfolio requirements.
The Aragonne Mesa windfarm near Vaughn, already
sells its power to Arizona. The proposed High Lonesome
Mesa will do the same. Presently, New Mexico exports
about half of its coal-powered electricity out of
state, so exporting wind power is the next logical
New Mexico, the "Land of Windchantment," will
see thousands of MW of new windfarms built over
the next couple of decades, but the rate of development
will be dependent on how fast new transmission is
Robert Foster is a Program Manager for the Institute
for Energy and Environment and an Associate Director
in the College of Agriculture at New Mexico State
University, where he has worked for 20 years. He
has worked in over 30 countries with USAID, World
Bank, DOE, NREL, NSF, NASA, Sandia Labs, and others.
He has contributed to the development of wind energy
projects in Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Honduras,
Mexico and the U.S. Mr. Foster is a Mechanical Engineering
graduate from the University of Texas at Austin,
and also holds a MBA from NMSU. He enjoys harnessing
wind power with his sailboat.