Nearly 40,000 acres of state-owned land was auctioned off last week in a lease agreement for the development of El Cabo, a huge wind farm planned for central Torrance County.
Pacific Wind Development LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, submitted the only bid – $1,000.
The state land, in conjunction with some 87,000 acres of private property, will form the site of New Mexico’s largest wind farm.
Officials say it could eventually provide electrical power to hundreds of thousands of homes, greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save millions of gallons of water a year and create hundreds of jobs.
The site lies about 12 1/2miles northeast of Willard. The state land includes 5,400 acres – mostly in Torrance County with some spillover into Santa Fe and San Miguel counties – for a transmission route from the actual wind farm.
Craig Johnson, a State Land Office auctioneer, supervised the bidding on the steps of the Torrance County courthouse last Thursday morning. The outcome, however, was a foregone conclusion, in that Pacific Wind Development was the only bidder to submit the required documents – and nearly $89,000 in deposits and fees – before the 4 p.m. cutoff on Sept. 13.
Mark Stacy, Iberdrola Renewables’ project director, submitted the bid for Pacific Wind, while about 20 interested parties looked on under sunny skies. Iberdrola, a Spanish company with U.S. headquarters in Portland, Ore., is one of the largest renewable-energy companies in the world. It had long expressed an interest in including state land in the project area.
According to a statement released by Public Lands Commissioner Ray Powell, the project could ultimately generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity – enough to supply up to 400,000 homes.
“If built out to its full capacity, the development would reduce (carbon dioxide) emissions by 2.6 million tons and save over 1.1 billion gallons of water (annually) compared to coal-driven electricity,” the statement continued. “The project could be built in several phases over the next 10 years, creating 1,600 construction jobs and up to 50 permanent positions.”
The term of the lease – details of which are to be worked out over the next few months – is 45 years, and will include three phases: initial, operations and decommissioning. Lease rates would range from $2 to $3 per acre during the initial phase and up to $12 or more per acre during the height of the operations phase.
A few years ago, Iberdrola said it planned to invest $600 million in El Cabo, which was to have 149 wind generators.
In 2011, the Torrance County Commission paved the way by approving a special use district for the company, and this past summer OK’d a $450 million industrial bond issue to support the project. If all goes smoothly, construction could begin late this year or early next year, with production starting in 2014 or 2015.
New Mexico currently has four large wind farms located on state trust lands. They are expected to earn more than $50 million during their life spans, Powell said. There are also applications pending for nine others.
“These projects provide us with a tremendous opportunity to earn more money for State Trust Land beneficiaries – public schools, universities, and hospitals – and to do so while creating jobs and protecting our spectacular and unique natural world in New Mexico,” he said.
Iberdrola’s Mark Stacy thanked the State Land Office, “whose vision and commitment to the sustainable development of state land encourages businesses like ours to explore investing here.”
Additionally, he said, “winning this bid is an important achievement in our ongoing efforts to bring the El Cabo project to fruition. We look forward to continued collaboration with the State Land Office, Torrance County, and other community stakeholders as we work toward making this project a reality and bringing jobs and other economic benefits to the local communities and to the State of New Mexico.”