Journal Staff Writer
Monday, March 12, 2001
High natural gas prices and the specter of California's power shortages are breathing new life into wind-generated electric power across the Southwest.
Southwestern Public Service, which serves 106,000 residential and business customers in the eastern portion of New Mexico, has just agreed to buy electricity from a new wind ranch at White Deer, near Amarillo, Texas.
SPS this month signed a 15-year contract to buy power from a wind facility called Llano Estacado Wind Ranch that is due to be completed in November.
Austin-based Cielo Wind Power LLC will build the 80-tower facility, which will generate 80 megawatts of electricity daily, enough to power over 26,000 homes.
By contract, a Duke Energy natural gas turbine plant that will be built near Deming will be capable of generating about 600 megawatts a day.
"It will cost more than (power produced) from coal-fueled plants but less than power from natural gas-fueled plants, in this time of high natural gas costs," said Gary Gibson, president of Southwestern Public Service, in a statement.
SPS has been offering wind-generated power to New Mexico customers since 1999. The utility's "Windsource" program allows customers to choose to buy power from a 660-kilowatt wind turbine near Clovis.
Company officials plan to include electricity from the new wind farm in its overall power mix. They have not figured out how that will affect customer bills, but the average SPS customer who has opted for power from the Clovis turbine pays about $5 more a month.
"For this region, this is a pioneering effort - in part, simply because of the size of Llano Estacado Wind Ranch," Gibson said. "It will be the largest wind-generation complex in a broad region lying from north of Odessa and Midland, Texas, all the way to Wyoming."
New Mexico's largest utility also is exploring wind power.
Public Service Company of New Mexico is participating in a two-year study with the state Energy Conservation and Management Division to identify potential sites for wind-power generators.
The company is considering six sites on the eastern plains between Clayton and Clovis.
"It takes over a year's worth of data to know if a site is suitable," said Michael McDiarmid of the state Energy Conservation and Management Division.
Already several wind power developers including Cielo Wind Power have shown interest in the New Mexico sites, McDiarmid said.
The high cost of natural gas has even put PNM onto the same side of the fence as environmental groups such as the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy to support bills in the current Legislature that offer tax credits to businesses and individuals who produce energy through renewable sources.
Besides cost, wind generation is attracting particular attention in the desert Southwest because it doesn't use water, unlike electricity generated by coal, gas, oil or nuclear fuel sources.
"Cielo's wind generation will allow SPS to avoid using about 160 million gallons of water annually," Gibson said in a statement.
In December, Sandia National Laboratories announced it will buy enough wind-generated electricity to provide 12 percent of the power needs of the Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.
Sandia will buy the wind power from SPS, which will build a second turbine at its site near Clovis.
While the slightly higher-cost wind power remains voluntary for many customers, the Colorado Public Utility Commission recently ruled that Xcel Energy (the parent company of SPS) had to include energy from a new wind farm in its overall power mix. The company has contracted to build a 162 megawatt wind farm in Lamar, Colo., with Texas energy giant Enron.
Vaughn Nelson, director of West Texas A&M University's Alternative Energy Institute, who has researched wind energy since the early 1970s, said he was pleased with recent commercial development plans for wind power.
He said the cost of wind-generated electricity compares favorably with building new conventional power plants.
Joe Peter, vice president of Cielo, said the turbines will stand on 226-foot-tall towers built in plants near El Paso and Dallas-Fort Worth. The turbines are from the Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi and each turbine produces 1 megawatt of electricity a day. The three rotating blades have a diameter of 184 feet.
The blades will revolve 21 times per minute whenever the wind blows between 8 and 56 mph.
The wind ranch will be on 14 farms and ranches near White Deer. Landowners will receive a royalty payment just as they would for an oil or natural gas well.
Cielo has about 597 megawatts of wind power under development for Texas and neighboring states including New Mexico, he said.
Texas law requires 2,000 megawatts of wind power for the state by 2009, Peter said. The Panhandle could supply that amount over the next five to seven years, Peter said.