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2 Wind Farms Being Developed in Torrance

Two new Torrance County wind energy projects are in development by Berrendo Wind Energy of Boulder, Colo., according to CEO Joel Johnson.

The Dunmoor Wind Farm, which will extend from south of Clines Corners to Encino, Johnson said, is braced to have 700 megawatts of capacity and will be located on 70,000 acres of contiguous deeded private land.

The Valencia Hills Wind Farm, southeast of Duran, will carry 150 megawatts of potential capacity. It will sit on 10,000 acres of private land, Johnson said.

Berrendo has three projects in various stages of development, including a 200 to 400 megawatt project in Oklahoma in addition to the two in central New Mexico.

The company first came to Torrance County in 2006, Johnson said, and contacted planning and zoning in February with regard to placing meteorological or MET towers to measure the wind.

The next step is to get a special use permit from planning and zoning to rezone the properties for commercial use. The company is now looking at the land it has acquired to nail down the perimeter of the projects before moving forward with rezoning.

The wind farms will be constructed in phases, Johnson said.

"If things went our way we could maybe have something running in 2011," he said. "The challenge for virtually all projects in central New Mexico is major transmission is going to have to be built."

He estimated five to 10 years before full commercial operation of the proposed projects, with at least three years to build transmission lines.

Berrendo is facing the same challenges renewable energy projects all over the country are coming across. The main obstacle is finding a customer, then getting about 800 megawatts of electricity to market.

"It isn’t going to happen overnight," he said.

Renewable energy projects in Torrance County have to find customers in Western states, because the power grid is divided down the eastern part of the state. Virtually all projects proposed east of Roswell and Clovis would go east to Oklahoma and Texas, while projects west of those cities have to look for markets in Arizona, California and Nevada. The reason companies look for customers outside of the state is New Mexico doesn’t have that big of a load, or demand for electricity, Johnson explained.

"Arizona’s load is larger and is growing, " he said. "And virtually everybody is trying to get to Las Vegas and California."

The reason why California is such a hot spot is because of the state RPS, or renewable portfolio standards. The majority of states require a percentage of power to come from renewables such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and nuclear.

However, many factors outside of renewable energy companies dictate how fast these projects are built and commercialized, which includes the troubled economy.

"When the economy slows, utilities aren’t buying any more power, or buying from sources they have," Johnson said. "Probably throughout the wind industry, demand has slowed."

Federal stimulus funding is helping renewable energy projects to be built, with sometimes 30 percent of construction costs covered. The catch is the projects have to be ready to be built, keeping Berrendo and many other companies from cashing in.

Cap and trade policy requiring a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, or raising the price of coal-fired generation would also give another boost to the renewable industry, Johnson said.

"That’s probably the biggest wild card," he said.

However, as the renewable energy market heats up, so does competition between different kinds of renewable companies for customers and tax credits.

"Wind energy has to compete against everything from solar to natural gas. When natural gas is cheap, like it is now, you can build a gas-fired generator pretty easily, and gas puts out a lot less carbon dioxide," Johnson said.

Wind is a bit more of a gamble than other renewables because it’s not always predictable, Johnson said.

In order to sell power to Arizona, for example, Berrendo has to prove the wind will blow in New Mexico at the same time electricity is needed to power air conditioners during Phoenix’s sizzling summers, between 4 and 7 p.m.

"If our wind generates electricity in those hours of the day, it’s a highly valuable product," Johnson said. "Unfortunately our wind seems to be stronger in winter than summer, but it’s safe to say we have some wind results that show we have a good product."

Johnson, a native of Roswell, always knew where the wind blows freely, in central New Mexico.

"We were really the first guys in central New Mexico," Johnson said. "We knew the wind was good here. We started looking there before wind maps showed it. Once wind maps changed, and highlighted central New Mexico, it started getting pretty popular."

Despite all the challenges left to come, Johnson believes the projects will be successful, with the encouragement and support of the county.

"Torrance County appears to be a very supportive community," he said.