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County Commissioners hear Western Spirit complaints

The Socorro County Board of Commissioners last week heard from a dozen residents of the county who are fighting to stop a high voltage transmission line from running through properties in southern Valencia County and northern Socorro County.

The Western Spirit Transmission Line is a proposed 140-mile, 345-kilovolt transmission line that will collect renewable power from a wind farm near Clines Corners and deliver approximately 1,000 megawatts of power to the existing grid in northwestern New Mexico. One property owner, Romy Baca of Bosque, has gathered over 100 signatures on a petition to stop the transmission line. Her concern is that the line would cut through several agricultural properties in the Socorro/Valencia county line area and would command a right of way up to 150-feet.

Pointing out that not unlike the proposed SunZia transmission towers, Baca said, “The structures are not little utility poles, but monstrous 120-140 high voltage lattice towers that can be seen from miles away.”

The Public Regulation Commission rejected SunZia’s application one year ago but left the door open to allow the energy company to resubmit with a new application.

Baca told the commissioners that the Western Spirit transmission lines will affect not only those property owners but everyone within sight of the lines.

“We are not against renewable energy,” Baca said. “But we are totally against any transmission lines crossing through our properties and community and destroying our farmlands, homes, dairies, and airstrips.”

Baca has been leading the northern Socorro and southern Valencia communities in a fight for over a year to prevent Western Spirit, Pattern Energy, and RETA “from crossing through our farmlands, dairies, airstrips, homes and destroying the beauty of our valley.

“Some of this land has been in our families for over two hundred years. Others purchased their land and settled in this valley for a better way of life,” she said.

Also present at the meeting was 49th District Representative Gail Armstrong, who said she has been following the progress of the project on the state level.

“The biggest problem we’re facing right now is that there is no map showing the transmission lines in the state of New Mexico,” Armstrong said.

She said there are proposed power line projects in every county she represents in the Legislature – Socorro, Valencia, and Catron. In addition to Western Spirit and SunZia, a wind farm – Borderlands Wind, LLC – is being proposed near Red Hill, north of Quemado, that would generate up to 100 megawatts of power in western Catron County.

“We have all these transmission lines coming into New Mexico that are running willy-nilly all across. There’s no master plan,” Armstrong said. “And ultimately the energy is all being sold out of state.”

Armstrong said she supports the residents and shares their concerns.

“I stand with the group. Clean energy, yes, but they shouldn’t be able to do it on the backs of rural New Mexico,” she said. “We chose to live here. Don’t want something to disrupt our views or do possible harm to our livestock or wildlife.”

The Western Spirit Transmission Line is currently under joint development by the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority of New Mexico and Pattern Development. The New Mexico legislature created RETA by statute in 2007 as a governmental instrumentality to finance, plan, acquire, maintain, and operate certain renewable transmission and energy storage facilities in concert with the private sector.

Commission Chair Martha Salas said she will invite Western Spirits spokesperson Kevin Winner to speak before the board about the project at a future meeting.

Nevertheless, Baca said she and her neighbors will not be deterred.

“We are not going away,” she said. “We are here to stay and fight for our beautiful valley.”

In other business:

• Paul Silva of Presbyterian Medical Services reported on the May 7 opening of the Veguita Family Health Center.

• County Assessor Julie Griego reminded property owners that property tax bills will be going out. “You should be receiving something from our office,” she said. “But if you don’t, it does not relieve you from paying taxes if you did not get a tax bill. If they’re not sure, people need to come in and take responsibility for their property tax.”