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Air Force concerns put wind farm’s future up in the air

The future of Torrance County’s El Cabo wind project is now in limbo.

The U.S. Air Force determined 61 of the proposed 114 turbines would get in the way of military training flight paths could not be completed. The conclusion irked New Mexico State Land Office Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, who called the decision “military tyranny.” Dunn was told just a few weeks ago that nearly half the turbines could not be built.

Letters exchanged between Dunn and the Air Force and Avangrid Renewables, the Oregon-based company leasing the 87,000 acres followed.

Every acre of state trust land has a beneficiary, Dunn said. If the turbines are not built, the New Mexico State Land Office expects state public schools and Carrie Tingley Hospital will lose out on $25 million in funding if those acres aren’t going to be used. Dunn requested the Air Force pick up the tab on those lost funds in the letter to Heather Wilson, the Air Force Secretary. Wilson is a former New Mexico U.S. congresswoman.

“I recognize the importance of protecting airspace needed for military operations,” Dunn wrote to Wilson on Feb. 27. “However, I believe that the military should not be uniquely and unduly burdening state trust lands by effectively prohibiting the investment-backed activities of state land trust lessees, unless it is willing to pay appropriate compensation.”

In October, Business First reported Dunn had announced an agreement with Avangrid Renewables with the company agreeing to pay the State Land Office an annual rental of $84,000 plus a percentage of gross revenues. With an initial plan of 142 turbines, the project was slated to become New Mexico’s largest wind farm to date.

The wind farm, which sits on 27,000 acres of state trust lands (the rest being private), is slated to be New Mexico’s largest wind farm to date, with 142 turbines, and enough energy to power nearly 61,000 homes and businesses.

Avangrid Renewables Communications Manager Paul Copleman provided a statement in response to Dunn and the Air Force’s decision to block the 61 turbines from being built.

“While we appreciate the commissioner’s strong support and acknowledgment of the tremendous economic development opportunities that occur when we build wind farms, and his duty to maximize revenues for state lands, we are also respectful of the Department of Defense’s and FAA’s missions,” Avangrid Renewables wrote in a statement to Business First. “We are going to continue to work with the DOD clearinghouse to help balance the protection of national security with responsible and reasonable siting of our turbines to benefit all parties.”

The Torrance County wind projects have been ongoing “over 10 years,” according to Dunn. The State Land Office has yet to be given a date on when construction of phase two of the project will begin.