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Oso Grande wind farm project receives approval from county commissioners

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Clyde Ward of the New Mexico State Land Office listens to questions about the proposed Oso Grande Wind Project at a Thursday public hearing. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

State Land Office public hearing held May 23

A large wind farm project has cleared one of its hurdles toward a construction start, with the Chaves County Board of Commissioners approving its special use permit.

The New Mexico State Land Office also held a public hearing regarding the project’s transmission lines in two counties.

The commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to grant the special use permit for Oso Grande Wind LLC, a project of EDF Renewables North America based in Oakland, California.

The venture will build 31 wind turbines, an alternate turbine, and an electrical substation on 17 parcels of private land around the Caprock area of Chaves County, near state highways 249 and 172. About 31 other wind turbines will be built in Lea and Eddy counties. Transmission lines also will be installed in Chaves and Eddy counties, and the company is building what it is calling the Empire switchyard in Eddy County that will be owned by El Paso Electric.

As previously reported, the California company is part of EDF Group, a worldwide energy company that developed from an electric utility in France (Electricite de France). The $300 million Oso Grande Wind Project is being built on behalf of Tucson Electric Power in Arizona, which will own the project once completed and will have rights to the power it generates. An estimated 247.4 megawatts of electricity are expected to be generated by the wind farm once construction is completed by September 2020.

The project will generate $15 million in annual lease payments to private landowners and $30 million in tax payments over the life of the project. It is also expected to create at least 100 jobs during the nine-month- to yearlong-construction, although wind turbine construction will be done by specialized companies.

No one from the public made any comments about the project at the public hearing, but Commissioner Robert Corn considered it a “big economic development deal” for the region.

“I think this is a tremendous opportunity and I think everybody in Chaves County, and Eddy and Lea — because as you recall, it is not just us — needs to stand up and applaud them for figuring out a way to get this done,” he said.

County Manager Stanton Riggs questioned Brian Sarantos, lead project developer, about the decommissioning of the farm. Sarantos said the company is working with the state on a decommissioning statute for wind projects, as EDF Renewables is involved in two other New Mexico wind farms in Roosevelt County. Sarantos said it will keep the county informed about decommissioning plans.

A meeting later in the day was held by the New Mexico State Land Office regarding the transmission lines that will be built on state land in Chaves and Eddy counties.

A few grazing and oil and gas leaseholders questioned the company about its plans to mediate any damage to grazing lands, to build gates in fences if needed for the movement of equipment and to protect against damage to oil and gas pipelines in the area.

Sarantos said the company will work with leaseholders, oil and gas companies and landowners to minimize disruptions, provide monetary compensation or hay for any livestock forage damage, and to install gates or cattle guards if needed.

The project also will involve federal land held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. An environmental assessment of the project as required by the National Environmental Policy Act began last year, with a final decision expected within 30 days. Oso Grande Wind LLC also is waiting on building permits from the counties, but it expects to begin work on transmission lines in July.

Clyde Ward, director of the Rights of Way Division of the State Land Office, said that the office estimates that it will receive somewhere between $1.3 million and $1.8 million from Oso Grande Wind LLC for easements on state land. That money is put into trust, with trust payments benefiting public schools, universities, hospitals and other state institutions and projects.

He said that there are quite a number of leaseholders affected, as the transmission lines cover 18 miles in the two counties. He also said that any roads created would be done by mowing and not blading.

Comments about the project can be made to Ward at the State Land Office, 505-827-3809, cward@slo.state.nm.us.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.