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Wind Powering New Mexico: A Fact Sheet

Wind Power is Booming!

New Mexico has Enormous Wind Power Potential! The developable wind power resource of the US, that is, what could be developed without incurring undue impacts to birds, noise, or visibility, is estimated to be between 2 to10 times the entire electricity consumption of the US. The Pacific Northwest Laboratory (PNL) estimates that New Mexico could generate over 435 billion kilowatt hours per year of electricity from wind nearly fourteen times the total amount of electricity the state generated in 1999.

New Mexicos resource is ranked twelfth in the nation. Idaho, which ranks thirteenth, has a resource only one sixth as large as New Mexicos, and California, the state that currently has the most, has less than one seventh of New Mexicos potential.

Won't Wind Power Take Too Much Land?

The footprint of wind power is actually very small compared to both conventional energy sources and other land uses by society. For example, the area of land affected directly by the foundation of a single 1 megawatt wind turbine is only an area about 10 feet by 10 feet - much smaller than the footprint of a single house, yet that same turbine can permanently and completely power over 300 homes, displacing over 3000 tons of CO2 emissions every year. On the other hand, the same area of a coal strip mine can only power a single home for 3 years on average! Moreover, unlike coal mines, wind turbines can be easily integrated with agriculture, and the land they impact can be much more easily remediated if necessary, because the impacts are light and there are no impacts to aquifers.

Isn't the Remote Location of Wind Resources a Barrier?

In addition to gross assessments, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has also made conservative estimates of New Mexicos wind resource by measuring its potential only in areas that met stricter wind classifications and that were located within ten miles of existing transmission lines. Under these much more stringent criteria, NREL estimated New Mexico could generate over 116 billion kilowatt hours per year of electricity annually, which is still over three times the amount the state generated in 1999.

Don't Wind Turbines Kill Birds?

There were some problems with bird kills at the first big US wind farm at Altamont Pass, CA. This problem has been eliminated by re-engineering of turbines and better siting techniques. Specifically, the original lattice work towers, which provided dangerous roosting sites, have been predominantly replaced by tubular towers. Additionally, the towers are now much higher, so that rotor blades are much higher off the ground, much larger in diameter, and rotate more slowly.

How is Wind Power Potential Measured?

The potential to harness wind resources is measured by wind power classes, which range from class 1 (the lowest average wind speeds) to class 7 (the highest). The DOE Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency considers wind resources of class 4 and above to be suitable for utility scale power generation. New Mexico has vast land areas, mostly on the Eastern Plains and in mountainous areas with wind resources of class 4 or higher. The Energy Conservation and Management Division of the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department of the State of New Mexico has identified and studied many specific sites that are suitable for development, and made this information available to land owners, wind developers, and utilities.

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"In 1990 five U.S. National Laboratories reported that either fair competition plus restored research priority, or a proper accounting of its environmental benefits, could enable renewable energy to supply three-fifths of today's total U.S. energy requirements at competitive prices. Renewables could even supply one-fifth more electricity that the United States now uses."

--Natural Capitalism, 1989
Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins

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