A Minnesota-based energy company that provides electricity for much of Eastern New Mexico wants to build a wind farm southeast of Portales that would produce 522 megawatts of power.
The proposed Sagamore Wind Project in Roosevelt County is part of an ambitious wind-energy plan by Southwest Public Service Company, a wholly-own subsidiary of Xcel Energy, that also includes a proposed 478-megawatt wind farm in Hale County, Texas, and an agreement to buy 230 megawatts from two existing wind farms in West Texas.
The proposal provides another example of how utilities are deciding that renewable energy is becoming more economical than traditional fossil-fuel power sources, a shift that comes as coal-fired generating plants in particular are under attack as a major source of pollutants that contribute to climate change.
An information sheet quotes David Hudson, president of Xcel Energy for New Mexico and Texas, saying, “The decision to add additional wind generation is purely economic. By taking advantage of tax credits before they expire, these projects will allow us to produce wind energy at a cost lower than energy produced at our coal and natural gas-fueled plants, and pass those savings directly to our customers.”
“We already use about 20 percent wind energy,” Hudson said in an interview Friday. “If this is approved, it would be up to 40 percent wind.” Hudson said the new power sources would serve about 260,000 homes in New Mexico.
According to an April article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Xcel was the nation’s top wind energy utility, a position it has held for the past 12 years. Hudson said the company currently has power purchase agreements with several wind farms in Roosevelt, Chaves and Quay counties in Eastern New Mexico.
Earlier this year, Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state’s largest utility, announced a major shift in its power supply plans, saying it intends to eliminate all reliance on coal by late 2031 and transition to solar and wind power for nearly a third of its energy mix by 2025.
Xcel’s proposal requires approval by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission as well as the Texas Public Utility Commission.
New Mexico Commissioner Patrick Lyons, R-Cuervo, said Friday he is not sure Xcel has a need for 532 megawatts of power for its New Mexico customers. “They’ll have to prove there’s a need,” he said. “We’ll look at it real close.”
A hearing before the New Mexico commission had been scheduled Aug. 15. However, on Thursday the state attorney general and the commission staff requested a postponement and extension of the deadline for approving the request from late December until March 21, 2018.
One reason for delaying the August hearing is a scheduling conflict. The deputy attorney general involved in the case and his utility expert are scheduled to be in a mid-August commission hearing on Public Service Company of New Mexico’s request for rate increase.
Also, Commissioner Valerie Espinoza, D-Santa Fe, said, The Public Utility Commission of Texas is expected to issue a ruling in August on Excel’s requested rate-making principles – which are basically the same as the rules the company is requesting in New Mexico. The Texas commission’s rulings could affect the New Mexico case, Espinoza said.
Excel is not opposing the request for a time extension, which probably means the commission will formally approve the delay at its meeting on Wednesday.
But Excel’s Hudson said delaying the approval will create a “compressed” construction schedule. Further delays could jeopardize the project, he said.
The Sagamore Wind Project is expected to be commercially operational in 2020, Hudson said.
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