Representatives of Pattern Development detailed for Lincoln County commissioners the positive impacts of the Corona area wind projects from jobs, to more revenue for schools and municipalities, and the long-term gains of families living in the community at the northern border of the county.
But when the commission meeting ended last week, Commission Chairman Preston Stone issued a warning that development of wind farms and transmission lines will forever change the nature of the area.
“I’ve sat here for the past six years,” he said. “I have the deepest respect for the industry I am in, ranching. I have attended numerous meetings and listened to the economic development folks and looked at the financial benefits to the communities, counties, to everyone involved. I have listened to all of your sales pitches.
“I support and always support private property rights of the people in my family and the ranching industry, and the efforts they put into this and the diligence and intelligence to bring this forward.”
They have tried to avoid the situation of pitting neighbor against neighbor when one has turbines and the other does not, he said.
“This is proposed to be one of the largest wind renewable turbine fields in the United States,” he said. “When this is complete, all the kilowatts and all the megawatts produced from Lincoln County will not be able to supply California for all the entities they need, and they will be paying 14-cents to 18-cents per kilowatt hour. That’s their worry.
“You’ve crossed your ‘i’s and dotted your ‘t’s. I don’t care (about Pattern’s scientific research), there is no way you can ever restore mother nature the way she was created – never. I understand the financial impacts this is supposed to have on surrounding municipalities and schools and everyone involved.
“I want you all to remember when all those turbines are put in place, it will never, ever again be the way it once was.”
The way to wind
Crystal Coffman, business development manager at Pattern Energy Group based in Houston, Texas, urged commissioners to contact company officials for information any time they have questions, adding that it is better to dialogue than allow rumors to spread.
“We’ve been in this business a long time and have a footprint in many places,” she said, adding that while wind is a major emphasis, the firm is building a solar component as well.
They use top tier equipment and are concerned about long-term impacts and how projects fit into the environment, she said.
“We have a portfolio of utility-scale renewable energy facilities in the United States, Canada, Chile, Japan and Mexico,” she said. “We haven’t done everything right, but we continue to learn.”
In October last year, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission approved the location control permit for Pattern’s Corona wind project, clearing the way for construction of about 950 wind turbines that will produce 2,200 MW of power. The Corona Wind Projects are expected to be in operation by the end of 2020.
Pattern’s development’s affiliate, Pattern Energy, is the largest operating clean energy company in New Mexico with operational wind facilities already powering more than 604,000 homes in the state.
Pursuing the Corona project, the firm has a capital investment of more than $2 billion.
One hunfref full-time jobs will be created in operations. More than 600 jobs during construction and wind projects are expected to contribute to the county and the local economy for a minimum of 30 years through payments in lieu of property taxes and other community benefit programs, Coffman said.
Pattern is the anchor tenant to the SunZia transmission line and the Western Spirit line, and will be able to dump power into the local market as well as California, she said.
Commissioner Tom Stewart said condemnation of land and interference with White Sands Missile Range missions were the causes for SunZia to be denied a permit for its line without prejudice and the company is rerouting and working with stakeholders.
Pattern’s Corona Companies is seeking approval, and Mesa Canyons to the east already received its Wind Energy Conversion System permit, Coffman said.
Stewart, county liaison to the military, urged Crustal to ensure that the local commander of the missile range is the person signing off on any new memorandums of understanding.
“The DOD signs off on a lot of stuff the local commander doesn’t know about,” he said.
Commissioner Lynn Willard asked about a proposal to turn off Federal Aviation Administration lights on the turbines.
Coffman said the firm is looking at setting up a radar system within the farm that would look for planes and if one comes into field, the FAA lights will blink, instead of staying on all the time. Two lighting mitigation specialists are reviewing what would be needed to ensure the FAA is on board and they are checking to be sure the DOD agrees.
Willard also asked about construction phases and housing during the peak period for number of employees.
Where will employees live?
Crystal said “there are a lot of moving parts,” but generally, a project on ground begins with road work and utilities, moving dirt, pouring foundations. Then components begin to be delivered such as the blades, substations and towers.
Manpower increases and the number on site “layers up” while testing is completed, and then comes back down when a project is commissioned. The cycle is about two years for onsite construction, she said.
Employees are encouraged to live within a 35-mile radius, she said.
“This project is 60 miles from top to bottom so that could include Corona, Carrizozo and even Ruidoso, Vaughn and Duran, as close as they can get with amenities like gas and groceries,” she said. “RV parks are huge. They filled up the ones in Clovis (for another wind project).”
Rental homes also tend to be used, and some hotels and motels.
Willard asked if the employees bring their families and will impact the small Corona school district. Coffman said usually, only the top tier being families. Some have ended up staying at a project and becoming residents of nearby towns.
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