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Commissioners hear plans for wind farm

A northern California renewable energy company plans to build a $300 million wind generating site in southeastern New Mexico, with about half of the turbines to be located in Chaves County.

Brian Sarantos, senior development manager of EDF Renewables North America of Oakland, California, part of an international conglomerate, talked about the company’s plans to build the Oso Grande Wind Farm on Thursday during a Chaves County Board of Commissioners meeting.

EDF Renewables has entered an agreement with Tucson Electric Power to build the wind farm in Chaves, Lea and Eddy counties and then transfer ownership to the electric company when the project is completed, expected to be December 2020.

“One of the questions that gets asked a lot (about) the community benefit is that if this power is being sold to Tucson, then Chaves County, Eddy County and Lea County won’t get any of that power, and that’s actually not true,” Sarantos said. “The way the electrons work is that, if you pull the switch closest to wherever that power is, that’s who gets the power.”

The project will be the largest clean energy site for Tucson Electric, which will enable it to meet renewable energy production requirements and goals, according to a news release. The Oso Grande farm will provide double the renewable energy production required by Arizona state regulations and come close to the company’s own goal of 30% alternative energy production by 2030, according to a news release.

“They don’t have the wind that you have,” Sarantos said, as he confirmed the assertions by Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr. that Tucson Electric chose New Mexico for its abundance of wind and then will trade electricity generated from the Oso Grande Wind Farm with other power companies.

As part of the development efforts, Oso Grande Wind LLC filed April 1 for a special-use permit, an application scheduled to be heard May 7 by the Chaves County Planning and Zoning Commission and by the Board of Commissioners on May 23. The company is seeking permission to erect about 31 wind turbines in the county on 11,000 acres of ranching and oil and gas property near the Caprock area by state highways 172 and 249. The total project in all three counties involves about 24,000 acres and 61 turbines, Sarantos said.

When completed, the Oso Grande site will generate about 247.7 megawatts of energy, enough to power about 100,000 homes. In Chaves County, about 150 megawatts is projected. The wind farm is also expected to reduce carbon emissions by 688,000 metric tons annually compared to the same amount of electricity generated by fossil fuels.

The benefits to southeastern New Mexico, Sarantos said, include 100 to 200 construction jobs, four to 10 full-time permanent jobs to operate the farm, $15 million in annual lease payments to six private landowners and $30 million in taxes over the lifetime of the project to the three counties, with Chaves County expected to receive a significant portion of the money.

The project also will include switch stations, roads, collection lines and gen-ties, some of which will cross not only private land but also U.S. Bureau of Land Management property and state-owned parcels. Sarantos added that the company already has begun work with federal and state agencies for easements and permits. The company, which finances its own projects, wants to begin the major part of its construction work in September.

EDF Renewable’s prior projects in New Mexico include the Roosevelt Wind Farm and the Milo Wind Farm, both in Roosevelt County and both supplying electricity to Southwestern Public Service Co. Commissioner Jeff Bilberry, who lives near the Roosevelt Wind Farm near Elida, said he has not heard any complaints about that operation.

Sarantos added that the company intends to work cooperatively with the oil and gas businesses in the area.

“We do recognize that oil and gas is a big part of this county and this state,” he said, “and so we are not here necessarily to compete with these guys but we are here to work with them.”

Tucson Electric is now owned by Fortis, a public electric and gas distribution company based in Canada. EDF Renewables is part of EDF Group, an international energy group with a publicly traded parent company based in France. EDF Renewables operates in 22 countries to develop, build and run renewable energy sites.