Transmission lines, regulation discussed at luncheon

Russell Anglin

Class 4 Winds and Renewables advocacy group hosted a networking luncheon at the Tucumcari Convention Center March 31. Class 4 Winds is an organization that promotes wind development, primarily in West Texas as well as in eastern New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas. The group’s founding members include Xcel Energy, West Texas A&M University and Amarillo National Bank.

“We try and promote this region as much as we can to wind farm developers and other renewable energy developers,” Class 4 Executive Director A.J. Swope said. Swope said the group consists of 130 members.

About 50 people attended the event, including Mesalands Community College Technical Director Jim Morgan, who spoke about the development of the college’s wind energy program.

“We got some kickbacks from some people about putting it on campus,” Morgan said of the college’s wind turbine. “Kickbacks from some people about ‘Is that the best location?’ But in actuality what you want is you want it to be near the students, because we’re not buying it for power production, we’re buying it for training, so that’s where it is.”

Next to speak was Keith Sparks, development director for Clean Line Energy’s Centennial West Clean Line, a proposed wind energy transmission line that would run from Guadalupe County to southern California.

“The idea is to connect renewable energy resources in eastern New Mexico with resources to major markets,” Sparks said.

The $2.5 billion project is one of four transmission lines the Houston-based company wants to build in the United States. The Centennial West line would stretch more than 800 miles, and Sparks said energy from the lines would power 1.9 million homes while reducing carbon emissions by 5 million tons per year.

“That’s what’s so appealing about working with eastern New Mexico … basically we’re working with virgin territory and we can site wind farms in the most accurate place to maximize the wind resources in that area,” Sparks said. “We are working with several tribal entities as well, trying to get the word out.”

Kelly de la Torre, an attorney with the Beatty and Wozniak energy law firm, discussed new draft guidelines issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines and The Draft Eagle Conservation Plan are meant to assist wind developers in making sure their turbine sites do not interfere with or harm eagles and other protected species.

“It has regulatory processes from the start of the project from when you’re first staking out your site all the way to post construction and it requires monitoring three years after that. If there are any issues within that three-year time frame, they can have another three-year time frame and they can revoke your permit … you could either have to turn off your turbines at specific times of the year for migration patterns and things like that or you have to stop your wind development altogether,” de la Torre said of the wind energy guidelines.

“This has huge implications for financing. Nobody’s going to finance (a wind facility) if you have certainty for five years and maybe not after that. It’s very bad for the industry.”

Valerie Fellows, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the wind energy guidelines are not regulatory measures.

“The (wind energy guidelines) were put together to really help wind developers from the beginning of the project through project construction and then monitoring afterwards. We cannot regulate the actual developers, where they put their sites. What we can do is work with them to tell them, ‘If you put your site here, you are likely to take or kill this kind of bird species, these type of bats, so we recommend you select a different location for that,’” Fellows said.

De la Torre said the draft guidelines make unreasonable demands on wind energy developers.

“I attended a roundtable on Tuesday night and a biologist there said it’s approximately a 2 percent mortality rate for eagles per year from wind development. I don’t advocate for killing eagles, but it’s a very small percentage, and to have stringent guidelines in place for 2 percent, it needs to have an adequate scientific basis to back it up,” de la Torre said.

The eagle conservation plan asserts there is still a risk for an increased mortality rate of protected species such as bald eagles.

“Although significant numbers of bald eagle mortalities have not yet been reported at North American wind facilities, the closely related white-tailed sea eagle … has been killed regularly at wind facilities in Europe. Because of that risk, many facilities will require permits to be compliant with the law,” the document reads.

Both documents are available to view online at http://www.fws.gov/windenergy/guidance.html. The guidelines are open for public comment until May 19 and comments can be submitted online.