Library from New Mexico
Wind power offers the potential of clean, inexhaustible, if intermittent, energy. But where to site wind turbines in relation to homes and communities is a major and growing point of controversy around the world and in the U.S. Here's why.
More turbines are in windy New Mexico's future, making many renewable energy advocates cheer. ...But a battle is brewing over where wind energy facilities should be built in New Mexico, and the first battleground is in rural villages. ...Hugh Ley, a former San Miguel County commissioner, said it is critical for counties to have specific ordinances for wind energy facilities. "Otherwise they will be making arbitrary and capricious decisions based on which way the wind is blowing," he said.
The potential impacts of placing such tall wind turbines near communities was among topics at a meeting Tuesday in Santa Fe hosted by two community groups concerned about large-scale, wind-energy farms proposed in New Mexico. More than 50 people - among them rural residents, clean energy advocates and state officials - packed a room at the State Library.
The city's planning and zoning commission is recommending to the city commission an ordinance regulating residential wind turbines within city limits. The Planning and Zoning Commission discussed the proposal Wednesday during its monthly meeting. ...The ordinance includes regulation of tower height and design standards. The ordinance also requires a building permit to construct a wind energy system on residential property.
In a heated meeting that lasted until 11 p.m. Tuesday, the Taos County Planning Commission approved variances for a proposed wind farm, contrary to the county planning staff's recommendation. The commission voted 5-2 to grant Taos attorney and Centinel Bank founder Eliu Romero height and landscape variances and a major land-development permit for a 27-turbine wind farm west of Taos.
Living off the grid doesn't necessarily mean you want to live next to a wind farm, even if it is designed to generate electrical power from a renewable energy source. A well-known Taos attorney's proposal to develop a wind farm has angered some residents near the site, including people in the Cielito Lindo subdivision, where homes rely primarily on solar energy.
A Chicago-based energy company has signed a two-year option on more than 7,000 acres of state trust land on a mesa top in San Miguel County for a potential wind farm. Some residents oppose the plan by Invenergy to place up to 50 wind turbines on the mesa that borders radio shock jock Don Imus' ranch off Interstate 25 near Bernal. Mark Jacobson, director of business development for Invenergy, said the company is still completing environmental studies required by the State Land Office and must obtain approval for the project from San Miguel County.
Commission Chairman Tom Martin said the need for an ordinance addressing wind turbines surfaced because the city Building Safety Department has received numerous inquiries from residents who want to install wind towers on their properties. The ordinance regulates the allowable height of wind towers and appropriate the square acreage of properties where they could be installed. "We just didn't want them in the center of town," said Department Director Pete Wilt.
According to the loyal opposition's attorneys, the proponents "slipshod" application was short on facts and long on "trust us" promises. Due to the major development status of the projected $150 million wind turbine field and a lack of information and time to digest it, the P&Zers voted to continue the hearing until Dec. 9.
Early in their development, long-bladed wind turbines were seen as threats to birds, especially migrating varieties used to crossing certain mountain passes. Now, in spite of technological improvements and efforts to keep their propellers off at critical times, lawsuits are descending on wind farms - working ones and some on the drawing boards - to turn them off or to stop development in the path of some birds' migration and in bat habitat. But behind some environmentalist arguments against the increasing clusters of wind turbines is a more basic, if less compelling objection: They're ugly. They can be noisy. Besides that, opponents wonder, how do we know they're not sending surges of electricity into the atmosphere, doing who-knows-what damage to animals, two- and four-legged alike?
New Mexico regulators have ordered an investigation into whether a tariff charged by the state's largest utility for a voluntary renewable energy program is just and reasonable. The state Public Regulation Commission announced Monday that it will review the tariff charged by Public Service Company of New Mexico for its Sky Blue program, in which customers elect to pay extra for wind-generated electricity. PRC Chairman Jason Marks questions whether the combined effects of the Sky Blue charge with a recently approved fuel adjustment surcharge and a tariff approved in an earlier rate case adds up to an overcharge for Sky Blue subscribers.
Plans for a wind farm in northern New Mexico hit some turbulence Tuesday as the Taos County Planning Commission postponed a decision in the face of local resistance. The Taos News reports that it was standing room only at the commission meeting Tuesday night where a proposal by Taos Wind Power to install 65 wind turbines outside Tres Piedras was to be voted on. The company, represented by attorney Eliu Romero, needs a variance to put up the towers, each of which is 284 feet high.
Wind-power entrepreneurs still don't know if they have enough consistent winds west of the Río Grande Gorge to be commercially profitable. However, the group headed by Taos attorney Eliu Romero is going ahead with plans to get a county permit to allow them to install some 65 wind turbines for the county's first wind farms. ...If initiated, "Taos Wind Farm" and "Wind Mountain Project" would have 40 and 15 turbines, respectively, on two separate private landholdings that would each generate 1.5 megawatts of power. Electricity would be sold to the Kit Carson power grid. Turbines cost $1.5 million each, Romero said, and rise 284 feet into sky.
Attorney Eliu Romero filed this variance application before the Taos County, New Mexico Planning Commission to erect sixty-five industrial turbines. The purpose of the variance application is to gain permission from the County to place structures in the county that exceed the height limits. Several of Mr. Romero's responses to the application questions suggest he has no knowledge as to the purpose and intent of a variance request or the conditions under which it can be approved. The application inaccurately cites the turbine height at 284-feet rather than 384-feet.
The Labs' Wind Energy Technology Department and the U.S. Department of Energy Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program have embarked on a project to determine if a roughly 30-megawatt plant is viable, the base and labs said in a news release. A private company would design, build, and operate the farm, and DOE/National Nuclear Security Administration, Sandia and Kirtland would buy the electricity, Sandia said.
New Mexico's electric transmission grid has a critical need for expansion, Lyons told attendees at the Renew Energy Conference in Tucumcari on Thursday. For example, there is a proposed route across the center of the state by U-P-C, a company planning a windfarm development on trust and private lands in Lincoln and Torrance counties. U-P-C is looking at this route through Torrance, Lincoln, Socorro and Catron counties. However, Lyons said, "We have received some opposition about this particular project. Nobody wants it in their backyard. But we have a number of applications for new wind energy development, but unless be can move the power these projects are futile." ...And Quay County ranks high within the state, Lyons said. "The largest contiguous area of good-to-excellent resources is located near Tucumcari, near the Guadalupe Mountains in southern New Mexico, and in the northeastern part of the state near the Colorado and Oklahoma borders," Lyons said. "Right now," Lyons said, "the Land Office is negotiating with seven companies that have expressed an interest in investing in the state's wind energy generation portfolio." These applications equal an additional 400,760 acres of trust lands for wind farm development.
A wind generating company says it will be ready to start construction on a wind farm south of Willard in the spring. But first, managers of the High Lonesome Wind Ranch LLC plan to submit today to the Torrance County Planning and Zoning Commission an application for a zoning ordinance for a special use district for the farm. "We're ready to put our application in. We had to pull together lots of pieces. These are complex projects," said Amy LeGere, Foresight Wind Energy regional development manager. The wind project is about nine miles south of Willard on private land on Mesa de los Jumanos and is being developed by High Lonesome Wind Ranch LLC, a partnership of Foresight Wind, Karbon Zero and Edison Mission Group.
Taiban Mesa, NM
Green power at no extra fee became official this week as the City Council approved renewable energy tariffs for the Farmington electric utility. The new structure reverses a consultant's recommendation that drew fierce protest from green-minded utility customers. The consultant recommended charging $40 of utility customers who wanted to either sell self-generated solar power back to the utility or choose to purchase renewable power from a third party in blocks. The tariff accepted this week not only ignores the recommended $40 fee, it proposes to purchase self-generated power at 8 cents per kilowatt hour, the same amount the utility charges residents.
It's round two for green power in Farmington today, with utility customers attending another City Council work session to protest a recommended $40 renewable energy fee. "A bunch of us are going to turn up again," said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico staff organizer for the San Juan Citizen's Alliance. "I think the city needs to do the right thing and shuck the recommended policy." ..."All I can do is present the information and they will make a decision." "Customers who choose to utilize renewable energy should do so because they believe it is the right' thing to do, but should also understand that these options are more expensive than traditional carbon-based resources," the report reads.