Representatives of two companies lay out plans for use of wind power in Lincoln County; Commercial operations must be underway by late 2020
Wind farms will allow families to preserve their ranches and pass them down to children and grandchildren, supporters say.
But some of their neighbor contended Tuesday that the planned towering wind turbines amount to noisy interruptions to the scenic beauty of Lincoln County and that they will devalue their property.
Representatives from two different companies, Pattern Development and Clean Line, pursuing the establishment of wind farms in the northern section of the county around Corona, laid out their progress and plans for county commissioners during their regular monthly meeting. But the landowners, both for and against the prospect of wind turbines, weighed in with arguments to try to sway commissioners to their sides.
Leon Porter said in 2006, several ranchers were approached by different wind developers wanting to lease their land. They formed the Corona Landowners Association. “We marketed ourselves and set up a way of getting the best developers in here,” he said." We worked through SunZia in 2008 and came up with a couple of different alternatives. We considered all the impacts and we do our best to look how it will impact everybody in the future.
“These are landowners looking at it as a way of sustaining their family heritage for generations. Almost all of them have outside employment to sustain their ranches. We all have a love of the land and want to be good stewards. We want to pass the land on for future generations and not have to worry about the ranches being sold off down the road.”
As for concerns expressed by Commission Chairman Preston Stone that the power generated all will be exported, Porter said most of the cattle he sells end up in Texas, fruit is sold from orchards and Hatch green chili is shipped across the nation.
“We export a lot of stuff,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of my antelope permits are for out of state hunters.”
Ricky Huey pointed out that the wind farm project has been in the public eye and in newspaper articles for a long time. “I don’t think it’s been a secret,” he said. “We’re talking about taking an opportunity.”
When his great-grandfather came from Texas in the late 1800s and brought his family later, he settled on 40 acres. His grandfather began to purchase property and build a ranch when people moved to the cities. His father started a business in Corona to help supplement the ranch.
“He had an opportunity and he took it,” Huey said. “The wind came about in last decade or so as an opportunity to supplement the ranch in a big way for your kids in the future, so they can be part of an eight to 10-generation ranch family. It’s an opportunity that we would like to take. Someday, I hope (his sons will) look back and say, ‘I’m glad my dad took that opportunity.’”
Standing in opposition to wind farms
A representative of the Blanchard Corona Ranch, east of the town, said records were checked, but there were no map showing the locations of turbines before the acreage for the ranch was purchased. After they closed, the new owners discovered potential locations nearby and he contended the turbines with lights and noise will have a negative effect on the property and will interfere with the scenic value of the land. He also contended raising cattle and turbines isn’t a good mix.
He asked commissioners to require maps be produced showing the locations of the turbines, that all agreements about the use of state trust land be verified and that appraisals be furnished for landowners who oppose the turbines, if needed for future litigation.
David Stevens, who said he’s been a rancher in the county a long time, contended the projects constitute a significant long-term detrimental effect on the aesthetics of the county in exchange for some “promised dividends.” Seldom do the real benefits stack up to the promises during the process of permitting, he said.
“We have a lot of landowners, primarily ranchers, who support it, and I respect their ability to do with their land anything want to that does not contravene zoning or public policy, but I vehemently oppose (actions) that adversely affect contiguous landowners,” he said. “I’ve helped bring number of people and (entities) to the county and they don’t come here to look at wind farms, they come because it is beautiful and different from most other locations in New Mexico.”
The long-term effects don’t bode well for the county or for the military that fly low altitude missions in the area, he said.
Wind development detailed
Matt Desmond with Clean Line Developers said that firm has signed up landowners representing 125,000 acres and 1,000 megawatts of power to be exported out of New Mexico to markets in the Four Corners area and California utilities.
“Our company is known for building transmission lines around the county to support renewable energy,” he said. “We all know as New Mexicans how windy it is here. There are so many different proposed projects, but one of the problems always is how antiquated the energy system is in this state, so we are building our own transmission line just north of Lincoln in Torrance County.”
The project is called the Mesa Canyons Wind Farm and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s regulations dictate that there will be open access to the line for Pattern or another company to channel their power, Desmond said. An agreement was signed with the Isleta Pueblo and the transmission line will be going through there. He estimated that the project will create 100 permanent jobs in Lincoln County, primarily in the Carrizozo or Corona areas.
Loralee Hunt of Pattern Development, which was selected as the Sun Zia Southwest Transmission Project’s anchor tenant, reminded commissioners that at her first appearance, “We had zero acres of private land leased then and now we have 150,000 acres and are migrating our way for additional 50,000 acres in Guadalupe county.”
The project will provide up to 1,700 megawatts of wind to feed the SunZia transmission line.
“We’ve also done everything in our power to comply with the federal production tax credit by the deadline,” she said to qualify for 100 percent, because the tax credit will stair-step down each year. Working with County Planning Director Curt Temple, the company laid out a certain number of roads and dug a certain number of holes where turbines are to be placed.
“Because we didn’t put anything vertical up, we didn’t have to begin complying with the county wind ordinance. Now we’re looking at what has to be done under that ordinance, including environmental (data) that generally is required in wind production anyway,” she said. “We also purchased equipment and took title and possession to fill out the remaining development portfolio. So we have already qualitied full the full 1750 megawatts proposed for this area.”
The drop-dead date for commercial operation is Dec. 31, 2020, she said, noting that creates a “very tight timeline.”
The coming year they will spend most of their time on securing necessary permits before people will see any structures going up, Hunt said.
“I know these projects change the landscape and it’s our goal to be good neighbors,” she said, inviting people with concerns to contact her.