“New Mexico has the potential to lead the nation in new energy jobs and the production of clean renewable energy,” says State Land Commissioner Ray Powell. The New Mexico State Land Office, under the direction of Powell, has been working with local communities and the private sector in support of that goal. “Through successful private-public partnerships, we are working hard to seize the opportunities,” Powell said.
Harnessing the state’s vast solar and wind resources not only advances clean energy and creates jobs, it also earns money. The Land Office offers a flexible land-lease structure that works well with the renewable energy industry’s business processes. The leases are expected to generate about $500 million over the next 40 years. About 94 percent of that goes to support public schools statewide. It also supports universities and hospitals.
There are currently five utility-scale wind projects under lease and three utility-scale solar projects on State Trust Land. The largest distributive solar system, where the commercial user of the electricity also owns the generating facility, is located on a former landfill site at Emcore in Albuquerque. Dozens of new applications are in progress, including a proposed 150-megawatt (MW) solar array to be located on 2,770 acres in Otero County. The auction for that development lease will take place on Jan. 5, 2015.
Luna County—Macho Springs Solar Project
The Macho Springs Solar Project, near Deming, began operations in May 2014. The plant is currently the largest solar project in New Mexico, generating about 50-MW on about 600 acres of Trust Land. The solar array will generate enough to power more than 18,000 homes without air emissions and realize significant water savings over gas-fired or coal-fired generating plants. The project will displace more than 40,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the equivalent of removing 7,500 cars from the road. Similar amounts of electricity generated with coal-fired plants use about 340,000 metric tons of water, or 332 acre-feet annually.
The plant was built by the world’s largest solar developer, First Solar, and created about 300 construction jobs. First Solar recently sold the plant to Southern Company and Turner Renewable Energy (owned by Ted Turner). However, First Solar will continue to operate and maintain the facility. This project will provide power to El Paso Electric customers in New Mexico and Texas through a 25-year power-purchase agreement. Payments over the 40-year term of the lease are estimated to generate about $10 million for the state’s public schools.
Torrance County—El Cabo Wind Farm
The proposed El Cabo wind farm will be the largest wind-energy project in the state. Pacific Wind Development, LLC (Iberdrola Renewables) was the winning bidder for the Trust Land lease. The project will be located on about 40,000 acres of private land and 39,400 acres of Trust Land in Torrance County. The wind farm ultimately will generate about 1,000 MW, enough to supply about 400,000 homes. It will generate about $38 million over the life of the lease for public schools and Carrie Tingley Hospital.
When completed, the wind farm will reduce CO2 emissions by 2.6 million tons, equivalent to taking 154,688 cars off the road, and save more than 1.1 billion gallons of water annually, or 3,428 acre-feet, when compared to coal-generated electricity. Most likely, the project will be built in several phases over the next 10 years. The start of the project is currently pending while issues with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are being resolved and power-purchase agreements negotiated.
Union County—Gallegos/Triangle Wind Farm
The Land Office recently auctioned a lease for about 19,000 acres of Trust Land in Union County. Triangle Gallegos LP won the bid and agreed to make lease payments that are estimated to generate about $47 million over the 45-year life of the project. These payments will support public schools, the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Military Institute and New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute.
It is anticipated that this wind project will generate a total of 500 MW from 285 wind turbines—enough energy to supply up to 200,000 homes. When compared with coal-fired generation, the project would displace CO2 emissions by 1.3 million tons, equivalent to removing more than 77,000 cars from the road and saving more than 550 million gallons of water annually, or 1,714 acre-feet. The project is scheduled to be built in two phases, with construction starting in 2015. It will create about 400 construction jobs and about 20 new, well-paying permanent jobs.