Thousands of acres in south-central New Mexico were planned to host two windfarms on the state public land after the results of a lease sale were announced Friday by the New Mexico State Land Office.
Both bids were awarded to subsidiaries of Pattern Energy for a total of 15,000 acres.
Canyon Winds won a 2,318-acre lease in Lincoln County for about $150,000, while a 13,370-acre lease in Torrance County was awarded to El Corazon Wind for about $1 million, records show.
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The minimum bids for each lease were $50,000 and they were expected to generation $5.2 million in revenue for public schools, universities and hospitals, according to the Land Office’s announcement.
Institutions benefitting from the leases along with public schools, the Land Office reported, were Eastern New Mexico University, the Colfax Miners Hospital, New Mexico Tech and New Mexico State University.
“Renewable energy companies are eager to break ground in New Mexico, and we are thrilled that the results of this bid opening help to advance this growing industry while bringing in big money for our school kids,” said New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard.
“New Mexico is blessed with plenty of natural wind and sun, as well as 9 million acres of state lands of varying topographies. This combination of factors is the perfect recipe to allow my office to pursue aggressive expansion of renewable energy projects on state lands.”
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Pattern Energy recently began leading an expansion of wind energy production throughout New Mexico after recently winning bids for 11 leases for such operations spanning Lincoln, Torrance and San Miguel counties.
Those leases were planned to add more than 500 megawatts to New Mexico’s wind energy capacity and generate another $196 million in revenue.
Pattern also acquired the SunZia Transmission Project this year, a project that will have the capacity to move 3,000 megawatts of wind power between New Mexico and southern Arizona where it can be sent to additional markets.
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The transmission was expected to be complete by 2025, and the power will be moved from Pattern’s 3,000 MW SunZia Wind Project expected to be complete in early 2026 also on State Trust Land.
“While we’ve already tripled renewable energy leasing on state lands, we are still just getting started,” Garcia Richard said.
She’s up for reelection in November in New Mexico’s General Election and challenged by Republican and New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Jeff Byrd, representing the commission’s Second District that covers rural areas throughout eastern New Mexico.
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On the campaign trail Byrd criticized Garcia Richard for “taking credit” for expanded renewable energy in New Mexico, which he said was required by Senate Bill 489 – the Energy Transition Act passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in 2019.
The Act required New Mexico utilities shift to completely carbon-free power by 2045, requiring renewable energy be used in place of much of the state’s carbon-emitting fossil fuel production.
“She’s taking credit for what Senate Bill 489 mandated. This had to happen,” Byrd said. “The duty of the Land Office is to raise funds for the beneficiaries. It would be a dereliction of duty to not lease that land.”
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But the argument for more renewable energy pointed to a broader debate on New Mexico’s overall energy development, Byrd said, as the state is heavily reliant on fossil fuels like oil and gas for more than a third of its budget.
The Land Office recently announced about $2.4 billion in revenue was brought in this year alone from oil and gas, and Byrd said he was unconvinced that wind and solar power would ever take the place of extracted petroleum products.
“It won’t happen in our lifetime,” he said. “I’m not opposed to wind and solar, but we need firm power and petroleum is our key to that.”
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He pointed to a perceived agenda by New Mexico Democrat government leaders to limit fossil fuels and chided plans to tighten controls on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of greenhouse gases like methane.
“When you’re artificially lowering oil and gas production, you’re raising the price at the pump and that raises the cost of everything,” Byrd said.
Byrd did admit that renewables could be used to diversify New Mexico’s energy supply and supplement demand when fossil fuel markets decline and production is reduced by energy companies.
But he argued oil and gas would continue to be a crucial part of New Mexico’s economy and industry for the foreseeable future.
While following state mandates to up wind and solar, Byrd said the Land Office should also be reforming and streamlining permitting and lease renewals for oil and gas facilities throughout the state, working with companies to help them comply with state requirements.
“Oil and gas can be volatile. There’s ebbs and flows, so we need to diversify,” Byrd said. “Alternative energy is not an end-all solution. If we push out petroleum, there’s nothing that will replace it.
“It would be bone-crushing for the state if that were to happen.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.