Caution needed for wind development

New Mexico is rapidly developing its substantial solar and wind energy resources. This is a good thing for the state and for the nation as a whole, as we need to move away from nonrenewable sources for our expanding energy needs. But the state and the nation must recognize that there are other considerations at play than simply developing these resources wherever they can be developed.

Up to this point, development of wind and solar energy supplies has been dictated largely by the easy availability of electrical transmission capacity to deliver the energy to markets — often far from the source. Coupled with federal tax incentives for these developments, there has been a rush to plant turbines on the landscape willy nilly. Some developments have not been sited at the most productive locations for wind resources, simply because there was convenient transmission capacity at hand.

Many who have followed the development of wind energy sources are familiar with the case of the Altamont Pass wind farm in California, which is infamous for killing many eagles and other raptors and for refusing to acknowledge that its location is a principal reason for the carnage that continues to occur there.

Properly sited, wind energy development in New Mexico should be encouraged and welcomed. However, careful consideration of factors other than convenience and tax incentives are important. One example of such an ill-considered project is the Sagamore Wind Project in Roosevelt County in Eastern New Mexico, still under consideration by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

It is, of course, convenient to the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s Tolk transmission line. However, the Sagamore project is proposed for perhaps the worst possible location in Eastern New Mexico from a wildlife standpoint. In particular, it is in habitat identified by the Western Association of Wildlife Agencies as important for the future of the lesser prairie-chicken in New Mexico. In fact, the area includes several occupied leks, or dancing grounds, where the birds perform their spectacular displays. Its footprint also includes a substantial portion of the playa lakes area near Clovis, which is important to many migrating and wintering birds.

Sagamore Wind Energy LLC has aggressively pushed this project through the PRC process, using specious arguments about the effect of wind turbines on the lesser prairie-chicken and other birds and denigrating the wildlife value of the area. In doing so, they have defied advice from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, which is about to decide on the status of the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act listing, which is controversial, is that much more likely if this project is approved.

New Mexico’s wind energy assets should be developed, but they should be developed with care and with consideration of other values that New Mexicans hold dear, such as the preservation of our wildlife heritage. We should celebrate wind energy development, but not the Sagamore Wind Project.

Tom Jervis is the president of the New Mexico Audubon Council.

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