Wind developer doubles down on Western projects

Source: By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press • Posted: Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A California-based renewable energy developer plans to increase by sevenfold its investments as it prepares to build more wind farms in New Mexico over the next several years.

A recent analysis commissioned by Pattern Development shows a $1.2 billion economic impact from its wind farms in eastern New Mexico and West Texas. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars more than what was initially projected in 2015 before development began and bodes well for what the state can expect in benefits from future construction, company officials said.

“I think New Mexico really has a chance to be a leader here in what’s going to come nationally, which is a growing renewable energy penetration as part of our energy mix,” Cary Kottler, vice president of North American development for Pattern Development, said during a recent interview.

The aim, he said, is investing in renewable energy to both serve the demands of the sparsely populated state and export the electricity to bigger markets in the West.

Some of the wind projects have been planned for years, but regulatory pressure is mounting as New Mexico and other states adopt tougher renewable energy mandates in an effort to phase out coal- and natural gas-fired power plants and reduce pollution.

New Mexico has set its emissions-free deadline for public utilities at 2045. The state’s largest utility, Public Service Co. of New Mexico, has vowed to beat that by five years, saying it will shutter its coal and natural gas plants and replace the lost power with a mix of solar, wind and battery technology.

Xcel Energy Inc., which provides electricity to customers in parts of New Mexico and Texas, also is investing millions of dollars in wind farms, substations and transmission lines.

Texas already leads the U.S. in installed wind capacity, and New Mexico is on pace to double its current capacity with projects under construction or in the stages of advanced development.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, New Mexico in 2017 added wind power capacity at a faster rate than any other state. A market report released by the industry group earlier this year suggested the state has tapped only a small fraction of its potential.

The lack of transmission lines often is cited as an impediment to the growth of renewable energy in states like New Mexico, where resources are abundant but demand is limited.

A key driver for Pattern Development’s upcoming investments is a recent decision by the state Public Regulation Commission to allow Public Service Co. of New Mexico to acquire a 165-mile transmission line that will be built through a partnership between Pattern and the state’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority. It will connect wind farms in rural central New Mexico to other points on the grid.

“That allows us to build more than a $1 billion of new wind projects in New Mexico that the line will serve,” Kottler said.

Local officials and landowners in Socorro County south of Albuquerque have come out against the transmission project, citing potential environmental impacts that include compromising pristine landscapes and disrupting migratory bird paths along the Rio Grande.

There are also concerns that the wind projects will fall short of creating enough permanent jobs to replace those lost as the state pushes out fossil fuel electricity generation.

At Pattern’s Broadview Wind Energy facility, there are about 40 full-time technicians operating and maintaining the turbines that span the New Mexico-Texas border. The facility has been producing electricity for customers of Southern California Edison since 2017.

The nearby Grady Wind project recently came online, and company officials say work to erect turbines in central New Mexico capable of generating another 800 to 900 megawatts is scheduled to start in 2020.

Close to 1,000 construction jobs are projected for Pattern’s upcoming projects, and the company estimates that 150 wind technicians will be needed once the planned facilities are operational. —