New Mexico breezes into wind-energy gigawatt club

Source: By Kevin Robinson-Avila, Journal Staff Writer • Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico became the seventeenth state in the U.S. in December to surpass the 1,000-megawatt mark for installed wind energy capacity, following the startup of a 250-megawatt wind farm in Roosevelt County.

New Mexico is now generating 1,112 MW of electricity from a dozen utility-scale wind installations, or enough electricity to power 190,000 homes every year, according to a recent report from the American Wind Energy Association.

“New Mexico emerged as a wind energy leader at the end of 2015, surpassing 1,000 MW of installed capacity to join 16 other states in the nation’s 1-gigawatt club,” said Hannah Hunt, a senior industry data analyst for the association. “The state is really starting to harness the benefits of wind energy.”

New Mexico’s growth is part of a trend blowing across the country.

Wind accounted for more than 40 percent of all new electric generation added to the grid last year, reflecting, in part, a rapid decline in prices. Costs for wind generation have fallen by about 66 percent over the last five years.

All told, wind generation reached nearly 75,000 MW of installed capacity as of March. That represents enough electricity to power about 20 million average homes, accounting for about 5 percent of all the country’s electricity.

“Wind is a significant part of the grid now, and the prospects are strong for a lot more growth in the near term because it’s affordable and reliable,” association CEO Tom Kiernan told the Journal. “In some parts of the U.S., wind energy is now the cheapest source of electricity, even with today’s low natural gas prices.”

The wind industry is also helping spur economic development, with about $128 billion invested to date in wind projects, and more than 88,000 people currently employed in wind-related jobs.

In New Mexico, wind developers have invested about $1.8 billion, employing about 2,000 people as of year-end 2015. And the state has capacity for a lot more wind generation, particularly on New Mexico’s gusty central and eastern plains.

“New Mexico stands out in terms of its rich wind resources,” Hunt said. “It has the potential for exponential growth.”

For that to happen, the state needs more transmission infrastructure, something local and national developers are working on. But even without new transmission lines, more wind farms are in the works.

That includes the 298 MW El Cabo Wind Farm in Torrance County, which Oregon-based developer Iberdrola Renewables expects to bring online next year. Once operating, El Cabo will be the largest wind farm in the state.

For now, that record belongs to the Roosevelt Wind Project, a 250 MW farm that California-based developer EDF Renewable Energy brought online in December. That new farm, located about 18 miles southwest of Portales, will supply all its electricity to Southwest Public Service Co., which serves customers in eastern New Mexico and West Texas.

EDF also brought a second, 50 MW wind farm in Roosevelt County online in March to sell electricity through the Southwest Power Pool.