New Mexico tops nation in wind energy growth in 2017

The Argonne Mesa Wind Facility near Santa Rosa is one of many in New Mexico. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican file photo

New Mexico added wind power capacity at a faster rate than any other state in 2017, according to a national trade association report.

Wind power supplies about 13.5 percent of all energy in the state, enough to power more than 422,000 homes. And with a bevy of wind projects in development, New Mexico is poised to more than double its capacity over the next few years.

The American Wind Energy Association released the data Tuesday at a Roundhouse news conference, hailing New Mexico as a rising star in the world of wind.

“New Mexico continues to see strong consumer and industrial demand for wind power, which is reinvigorating and diversifying the state’s economy,” said Tom Darin, the group’s Western state policy director. “This includes substantial investments and economic benefits in rural New Mexico, where it’s needed the most.”

An estimated $2.9 billion has been invested in the state’s industry so far, according to the report.

This past year, both the El Cabo Wind Farm in Torrance County and the Broadview Wind facility near Clovis went online. Along with several smaller projects, they added 570 megawatts of wind power to the grid, a 51 percent increase over 2016, bringing the total energy haul to 1,682 megawatts.

Energy generated at the El Cabo plant will help power the $1 billion expansion of Facebook’s Los Lunas data center.

The proposed Sagamore Wind Project, a 522-megawatt operation located on 100,000 acres near Portales, received approval from the state Public Regulation Commission in March. A sister project in Texas is pending a go-ahead from that state’s PRC’s counterpart. Together, the $1.6 billion build-out will create 600 construction jobs and 40 to 50 full-time positions.

The wind industry employs about 4,000 workers in New Mexico — a number Andy Swapp is hoping to help increase.

Swapp runs the Wind Energy Technology Program at Tucumcari-based Mesalands Community College. This year, 43 students are enrolled in the program, which trains the wind turbine technicians of the future.

Wind turbine tech is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the nation, second only to solar technician.

“This isn’t just a job for many students,” Swapp said. “It’s a career … with livable wages and benefits.”

That’s especially valuable for the mostly rural cohort Swapp teaches. He said 85 percent of his students get a job right after graduating, many of them making $18 to $24 per hour out of the gate.

“The choices that some of these [students] have is pretty limited sometimes in these small towns, so this is an awesome career,” he said.



In a joint statement, New Mexico’s congressional delegation — Democratic Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce and Democratic Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham — applauded the growing industry.

“We are proud of our state’s tremendous advancement in wind energy,” the legislators said in a news release. “New Mexico will continue to be at the forefront of America’s wind energy success story. And we will continue to work in Congress to grow our country’s energy potential and to modernize our essential transmission grid.”

For wind advocates, the biggest policy challenge moving forward is to dispel a few long-running myths about the renewable energy source’s potential.

Tom Kiernan, the association’s CEO, said he wants to clarify a national discussion on the grid’s reliability. Wind, he said, is resilient.

“We’ve got enough wind on the grid that, in many respects, it’s kind of self-balancing,” he said. “It may not be blowing in one part of New Mexico, but it’s ripping in the other part, and it kind of balances itself out.”

Pro-business policies on the state level could help widen wind’s footprint as well, Kiernan said. A statewide wind-production tax credit expired in New Mexico at the end of 2017.

Contact Sarah Halasz Graham at 505-995-3862 or sgraham@sfnewmexican.com.

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