BLM to study large-scale N.M. wind project

Source: Scott Streater, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Bureau of Land Management will conduct a detailed study evaluating a large-scale wind project in western New Mexico covering nearly 30,000 acres of federal lands.

The Borderlands Wind Project in Catron County, N.M., near the Arizona border, would cover 28,917 acres of federal lands — along with nearly 12,000 acres of additional private and state lands — and have the capacity to generate 100 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 30,000 homes.

BLM plans to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) of the project, and amend the Socorro Field Office resource management plan to account for impacts to visual resources in the region. Each of the 36 wind turbines could stand as tall as 499 feet, or roughly the size of a 50-story building.

BLM is accepting public scoping comments through Dec. 10 that will help guide how it conducts the EIS. In addition to visual resources, BLM has identified several other areas that will need to be analyzed, including potential impacts to cultural resources; threatened, endangered and sensitive species; tribal interests; and military training flight paths, according to a Federal Register notice.

The agency plans to hold at least one public meeting in New Mexico during the 30-day public scoping period.

In addition, BLM proposes to withdraw the 28,900 acres of federal lands in the proposed project area from new mining claims for up to two years while it conducts the EIS.

The wind-power project — proposed by Borderlands Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy Inc. — could begin construction by next year and start generating “electricity to the grid by the end of 2020,” according to BLM.

NextEra Energy is the world’s biggest solar- and wind-farm operator (Energywire, June 19).

President Trump and the wind-power industry have had an uneasy relationship, with Trump last summer slamming wind power as a subsidy-dependent “killing field” for birds (E&E News PM, Aug. 20).

And at a private fundraiser, he said, “What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?”

Still, the American Wind Energy Association reported that last year wind generated a record 6.3 percent of U.S. electricity and employed a record 105,000 people across all 50 states (Greenwire, April 17).

The Trump administration in the past six months has made some major moves to promote commercial-scale renewable energy projects on public lands, though many have been made to promote solar power projects in California and Nevada.

Among those projects is final approval by the Interior Department this month of the 500-MW Palen Solar Power Project covering roughly 3,100 acres of federal land in Riverside County, Calif. (Greenwire, Nov. 1).

The $1 billion photovoltaic solar Palen project, proposed by San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy Inc., would have a capacity to produce enough electricity to power roughly 130,000 homes and businesses.