Investing in the wind

Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico

Harnessing the wind to be used as an energy source was the first step.

Now transporting and storing wind energy are the only two things holding back a possible slew of renewable energy projects in eastern New Mexico.

“This whole region has a tremendous resource in wind energy,” said Xcel Energy spokesperson Wes Reeves. “The winds we have here are considered the best wind for wind energy.”

But having perfect wind isn’t enough.

“Wind is a little different than other energy sources in that you can’t plan for it. You can kind of predict it, but it’s not a steady resource. Thus far, it can’t be stored or transported economically. If we developed economic ways to store it and transport it, it would really take off.”

Reeves said though there is a large amount of potential for renewable energy projects in eastern New Mexico, there isn’t that much need for it locally.

“There are a lot of efforts to move wind from here to there. We’re lacking in upgrades in transmission. We’re laying plans to send the wind where it needs to go,” he said.

Reeves said the same restrictions apply to solar power.

Some renewable energy projects have already come to eastern New Mexico and more are slated for the area.

An 80 megawatt power plant is located east of Tucumcari at San Jon.

The Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill includes $951,000 for a 20-acre demonstration algae farm in Portales if the bill passes the Senate. Algae is used to create a “green crude” used to produce fuel for diesel, gas and jet engines known as “green fuels.”

“There is a specific benefit for renewable electricity in agricultural areas that exist on the eastern side of New Mexico. Farmers and rural land owners in windy areas can receive payments for turbines they put on their land,” said Senator Tom Udall’s press secretary Marissa Padilla. “That way they can earn money off the land while still working it.”

Sen. Udall’s first bill in the senate was one requiring renewable energy mandates, Padilla said.

“When we put a mandate in place, it spurs the development of these things like wind and solar,” she said. “I think we will see more in the future as we continue to ramp up on renewable energy.”

Udall is pushing for legislation that would require utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources by 2025. It would also set the first national threshold for utilities to provide six percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2012 and gradually increases to meet the 25 percent by 2025 goal.

While increasing wind and solar energy options in eastern New Mexico is good for the environment, it is also good for the local economies, according to Rep. Ben Ray Lujan.

“I don’t think you have to mention to everyone the importance of renewable energy projects,” he said. “We are really looking to take advantage of the resources we have in the state. As wind and solar projects begin to grow, they will create jobs. People will realize they don’t have to leave our small towns and communities in New Mexico to support their families. It will contribute to a strong local economy.”

Lujan commended Mesalands Community College’s North American Wind Research and Training Center for bringing attention to eastern New Mexico in regards to renewable energy.

“They provide the training for a growing sector of science technology. In the future, I hope to see community colleges, universities and even high schools providing training for the field,” he said.