The idea of using wind to generate electricity seems to be gaining popularity, except with people who might have to live near 30-story-tall turbines.
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. Many came from El Valle, a long strip of land and villages along the Pecos River and N.M. 3, near a mesa where a company proposes to put as many as 50 wind turbines on state trust land.
The mesa is beautiful and no place for an industrial-sized wind farm that won’t benefit the local communities, said community activist Gloria Gonzales, who lives near Ribera. “The question is, if we don’t protect it, who will?” Gonzales said.
Wind energy is among the renewable energy sources that Gov. Bill Richardson and renewable energy advocates hope will push the state to the forefront of a “green energy” revolution expected to take off under the new Obama administration. The U.S. Department of Energy issued a study that indicates wind could provide up to 20 percent of the country’s total energy needs – if enough wind turbines are put up and the wind blows.
New Mexico ranks 12th in the nation for wind energy potential, primarily on the northeast side of the state, but so far hasn’t tapped much of that potential. A new eight-year extension to a federal tax credit for wind farms is expected to boost investment in and construction of such facilities.
But residents near proposed wind farm sites outside Taos and in San Miguel County are wondering who’s keeping their interests in mind. Wind energy facilities are regulated by counties, the State Land Office or federal agencies, depending on where they are located. The Public Regulation Commission only has oversight if a project has a capacity greater than 300 megawatts.
Gonzales is among several residents in El Valle who banded together and researched wind farms when they heard of Invenergy’s plans to place a wind farm on the nearby mesa. What they found made them believe more careful state and county oversight is needed before wind farms are approved in New Mexico.
Gonzales and others are concerned about potential health impacts from the constant low-frequency noise of wind turbines if they are placed too close to homes. They wonder about the impact on wildlife from roads and concrete pads for wind turbines. And some simply don’t like the idea of a row of wind turbines visually breaking the skyline over the mesa.
The wind-energy industry says rural counties benefit from the tax revenues and jobs generated by wind energy facilities.
Craig O’Hare, a renewable-energy lobbyist for the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, told Tuesday’s gathering that Richardson sees renewable energy as a way to diversify the state’s revenue stream away from oil and gas production over time.
Other state agency representatives said members of the group had raised good questions and concerns about wind facilities. It didn’t appear that anyone from a wind energy company attended the meeting.
Keely Meegan, one of the organizers, said they’re talking to state legislators but said, “I don’t know if we have a clear next step.”
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