SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – Bud Bradford was attracted to the expansive views and the peace and quiet.
Mark Jacobson, a business development director for Chicago-based Invenergy, was lured by wind and the potential to harvest it and transport it through existing transmission lines.
But Bradford argues that this juniper-rich portion of San Miguel County can’t simultaneously satisfy both agendas.
Standing in the spacious sun room of his Blanchard home, southwest of Las Vegas, N.M., Bradford said he objects to Invenergy’s plan to build a wind farm on the nearby Bernal mesa.
“I don’t want to see turbines out there wrecking everything,” the 75-year-old retired electrician said.
Bradford isn’t against wind energy but doesn’t want to see any turbines on a ridge approximately a half-mile south of his property.
Like many opponents of the project, his concerns extend beyond views.
A hearing last week before the San Miguel County Commission – which is attempting to create a new ordinance governing development of wind energy facilities – drew a standing-room only crowd. Most expressed concerns about a large-scale wind turbine project, although Invenergy also had several supporters take the podium.
“I think we need to think of our children, our grandchildren, future generations and the world we leave behind for them,” said Connie Ortiz, who declined to say whether she is leasing land for the project. “The wind turbines are symbols of a less polluted future.”
Others heralded the project for its potential to bring money and jobs to the county and argued that the new ordinance’s current draft is too restrictive – especially its requirement that turbines be set back at least three miles from residences.
The county has a wind energy ordinance from 2003 but placed a moratorium on new developments last year so a task force could work on an updated version.
Jacobson told the commission a three-mile setback would “kill” Invenergy’s potential San Miguel project. He said Invenergy has built more than 20 projects and that he’s personally worked in 10 different states and says 1,500 feet is a more appropriate setback distance. He said counties with wind farms usually have setbacks in the 750-2,000 foot range.
But the most speakers at the hearing expressed wariness about Invenergy’s plans and urged the commission to adopt an ordinance with at least a three-mile setback. Many said they feared that turbines located any closer would cause health problems – including headaches and insomnia – and create noise issues while also decreasing property values.
Other residents said they oppose the industrial size of the project, fearing it will threaten birds and wildlife and mar the rural landscape.
Opposition to a possible Invenergy development in San Miguel started mounting two years ago as word spread that the company was looking to lease land and obtain easements from area residents. It was also in 2008 that Invenergy signed a two-year lease option with the State Land Office for 7,063 acres of state trust land atop a mesa near Bernal.
Bradford and others who live in the Pecos River valley quickly mobilized to oppose an industrial-size wind farm in their community, even though Invenergy has still never submitted an application to San Miguel County.
Planning and zoning supervisor Alex Tafoya said Friday he can’t confirm exactly where the company wishes to put its turbines and has heard conflicting accounts from residents.
Attempts to reach Jacobson last week for additional comment after the county commission hearing were unsuccessful, though he has said in the past the project would feature up to 50 wind turbines. Each is expected to produce up to 1.5 megawatts of electricity, roughly the amount needed to power 400 homes per year. With a blade in the upright position, the turbines extend 390 feet into the air.
Jacobson said previously that each turbine eliminates one-third to one-fourth of an acre of land for grazing or farming use.
Gloria Luz Gonzales, another area resident, said she worries that if turbines are installed on the ridge line they will harm wildlife and archeological sites.
Eddie Rodriguez, a caretaker of an area ranch, pointed out rocky mounds on the mesa that he’s been told are Civil War–era grave sites and said he regularly sees animals roaming around.
Craig O’Hare, a special assistant for renewable energy with the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said he’s heard the criticism of wind farms.
New Mexico has 600 megawatts of wind energy operating in the state now, mostly on the eastern plains. O’Hare said opposition to wind farms has come primarily from San Miguel County residents and those fighting a possible project in Taos.
“The two primary concerns we hear are about the visual effects and the potential noise, depending on how close the turbines are to someone’s home,” he said.
The state has so far left landuse issues related to wind farms to individual counties, he said. The state, meanwhile, is looking at renewable energy as a boon.
“We really look at this as a huge part of New Mexico’s future economic development – developing wind farms and solar farms for export to outof-state markets,” he said. “Just like we export New Mexico oil and gas and have for the last 100 years, our vision for the future is that in addition to the oil and gas, we’ll export renewable energy resources out of state.”
Bradford said the opportunity to live a peaceful and quiet lifestyle was a large reason he chose to buy property in the area.
“If there were wind turbines when I first came, I wouldn’t even have bought the land,” he said. “… I came out here for peace and quiet.”
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