Interest in wind energy picking up

Wind and its power is old stuff to eastern New Mexico residents. But there is a new push to harness that power and turn it into a valuable energy resource.

James Kratzer of Portales, lead meteorologist at Cannon Air Force Base, said the area faces 50 mph or higher winds an average of 15 times per year. He said it’s happened twice so far this year, and the area also regularly averages 12 to 20 mph year round.

Lee Tillman, retired director of Eastern Plains Council of Government in Clovis and a wind energy consultant, said there is a bright future for wind energy resources in eastern New Mexico where large and small wind turbines are concerned.

"We’ve got such an excellent resource and now, we have the technology to harvest it in a large region that has excellent wind potential," Tillman said. "I think we have the opportunity to establish energy independence in rural areas. There is a lot of benefits. Creation of jobs, utilization of wind. It really is an excellent economic strategy."

Tillman said the benefits of wind energy are numerous. Wind farm projects in New Mexico pay annual incomes to the counties where they are located and to local schools. Job seekers also benefit because workers are needed to run wind energy facilities and machinery.

"I don’t think there’s very many negatives to the wind industry," Tillman said. "It’s had a great economic impact but there is great potential as we overcome obstacles like transmission and small wind development. Then we’ll have broader wind development."

Tillman said transmission lines that carry electricity from the wind turbines have been an issue for eastern New Mexico wind farms, because there is not strong enough voltage output to carry the electricity as far as it can go. He said upgrading transmission lines to carry electricity further than New Mexico is a goal for the wind energy industry to work towards in the future.

Tillman said another thing to watch in the future are smaller sized turbines being built for residential and business use. "The small wind turbines have the potential to harvest wind that will be utilized where it will be produced, like at a farm or like at a Wal-Mart store," Tillman said.

He said a company in Austin, Texas, is currently working on a new smaller type of wind turbine. According to Michael McDiarmid, an energy conservation and management division consultant from Santa Fe, the biggest markets for out of state energy production are central Arizona and southern California, which pay New Mexico for the use of the electricity coming from their wind energy resources.

"In New Mexico, the wind power potential is huge," said McDiarmid. "There’s way more energy than the state itself can use, so we can export electricity to other states, which means an economic boost for New Mexico."

He also said New Mexico is going to need more high voltage electricity lines in the future to export more energy to more states. He said the problem with accomplishing this is the large initial investment.

"Wind power is a source of electricity which is clean, safe, and inexhaustible," McDiarmid said. "Compared to other industries, these are the three most important things for the country and New Mexico."