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High Lonesome WInd Ranch

Various members of our community have traveled to central New Mexico to investigate first-hand the recently-completed High Lonesome Wind Ranch on the Mesa de los Jumanos near Willard, New Mexico. Though it is located in an area that is extremely sparsely populated, this facility presents a good approximation of what the facility proposed for our area would impose in terms of visual and environmental impact. Here are some images, information, and impressions from those visits. (Click images for larger versions.)

The view from below.

Here is the northern end of the High Lonesome Wind Ranch as seen from NM Hwy. 42.

High Lonesome from NM Hwy.42

Notes from a visit to Mesa de los Jumanos (High Lonesome Wind Ranch)

Amanda Hargis
October 8, 2009

Visit to High Lonesome Wind Ranch in Torrance County. The purpose was to see what other counties are doing with industrial-scale renewable energy generation, what programs and policies they have in place, and what the facilities actually look like on the ground.

Persons Interviewed
Jeremy Johnson, Operations & Maintenance Project Manager, Edison Mission
Arthur Faust, Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Director, Torrance County
Café owner, Mountainair

Site Location and Vicinity
Located in Torrance County, 8 miles south of Willard and 15 miles southeast of Mountainair (see below, left), bounded on east and west by the Cibola National Forest, and on the north by the single home for miles, that housing the owner of the land the turbines are on. The High Lonesome Mesa Wind Ranch consists of forty wind turbines manufactured by Clipper Windpower . The entire site extends approximately five miles (see below, right), covering approximately 15 square miles. Collectively the wind installation "nameplate capacity" is 100 megawatts of energy or enough to meet the needs of 24,000 homes. Actual generation will be less due to diurnal and seasonal wind variations.

HL_Figure1 HL_Figure2

Site Preparation
5 meteorological towers (220' tall) were set up by Karbon Zero (ABQ) to study the weather, under a Conditional Use permit. Three have since been removed, leaving two for ongoing measurements. Wind, barometric pressure, humidity and temperature were measured at five different heights above the ground (150' up to 220'). Best wind generation at this site is during winter afternoons. The project manager noted that Karbon Zero said the facility would generate enough power to cover the load for summer afternoons in Phoenix.

All permitting for the turbines was done under a Special Use Overlay Zone. Contrary to news articles, Torrance County doesn't have a wind turbine ordinance in place yet; they are currently drafting an ordinance. Permit fees were $1200 for the zoning application and $250 per tower through P&Z. Road and access permits were handled through the Roads department. No information on fees for that. No fees were charged for the transmission poles - they are exempt from fees in Torrance County.

Twenty two miles of utility poles/lines were installed to transmit the power generated to the existing PNM transmission line. Power is then shipped to the Four Corners Power Station, and sold to Arizona Public Service (APS).

Electrical power is required to start the windmills; the generated power from the wind is then exported to the Four Corners Generating plant for transmission to Arizona.

ARCADIS did standard environmental studies and mapping, including:
* Spill control, bird strikes, archaeological sites (found some by the transmission lines).
* Defined procedures to report archaeological finds.
* FAA studies for turbine height.
* The FAA studies don't cover the Department of Defense - that had to be a different study and report.
* Radio broadcast study, because the blade movement interferes with signals.

The proximity of the Scenic Byway (NM Hwy. 41), 15 miles to the northwest, had no effect on the location of the turbines.

Each blade is 155' long, and had to be delivered by special truck because they were too long to be delivered on a train. (Needs wider turning radius, unobstructed curves, etc. because they would stretch across a few train cars.) The blades were shipped from Brazil.
Each tower is 425' to the tip of the blade in its upright position, 270' from the ground to the center of the hub. (see below, left)
The tower sections were brought in by truck and hoisted into place with two cranes. The bolts at the base of the tower are 11 feet long (down into the concrete), about 8 inches apart the entire circumference of the tower.

270 people were hired for construction. Different types of people arrived for different phases of construction. 4 or 5 locals were hired. For employees, they primarily need accomplished electricians. The community colleges are doing a better job of preparing people for this kind of work than the four-year universities.

Each turbine has a base that is made of reinforced concrete. They are 27' deep and 58' wide octagons, composed of 380 cubic yards of concrete per turbine (40 trucks, 1.4 million pounds, each) (see below, right).
HL_Figure3 HL_Figure4

Each location around the country has different foundation requirements (e.g. Iowa is just hundreds of feet of silt) - at this location (bedrock at the surface) they constructed the pedestals for each turbine from concrete. They used a series of increasing-length jackhammers then a scooper to dig the ditches for collector lines. The project manager said that it's very typical for the turbines to be built along the edges of mesas.

Each turbine has its own weather vane and anemometer. They turn according to the wind direction, and shut off when the wind hits 70 mph. Each turbine is controlled by computer from the main office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Each turbine cost about $3 million to build. Insurance for the turbines is extremely expensive, with a very high deductible. They'd have to have two turbines catastrophically fail before the insurance would kick in.

Water was trucked in for construction (site mixed concrete, dust control).

Each turbine took two cranes to erect. The crane pads have a special mix of construction materials designed to hold the weight of the cranes.

The road to the site was originally a two-track dirt path. They mined caliche from a neighboring ranch for the road surface (see below). Aggregate for the concrete was mined on-site, requiring State permits.

Local businesses were very happy with the dollars flowing into the town. They are pleased with the project as a whole. There was some unhappiness about the school dollars going to the next school district over from Mountainair (Estancia). A neighboring rancher was unhappy with the project, but rumor is that's because he didn't get any turbines (and therefore income) on his property.

On-site, the disturbance to the ground is very dramatic. The roads between towers are 60' wide, cleared down to the rock. The turbine pads are cleared for a diameter of about 300 to 400 feet (it varies). Removed vegetation has been left in slash piles. There are various side roads criss-crossing the site (maybe for movement of the cranes?) (see below, left).
HL_Figure6 HL_Figure7

There are currently 20 people employed - they are going back over each turbine to ensure the bolts are torqued correctly, etc. When this phase of the project is done, there will be 12 people employed on-site.
Income for the Estancia school district is said to be $1million per year by P&Z manager, but newspaper reports say it will generate $24 million over 30 years, with no mention of where the money will go.

The property is taxed as agricultural. There are no improvement taxes on the turbines themselves. Income from Payment In Lieu of Taxes( PILT) will start next year to pay off the Industrial Revenue Bond (IRB). No dollar amount was given. This is counted as income for budgetary purposes by the NM Department of Finance & Administration (DFA)

Water is trucked in for operational use (bathrooms) - 2500 gallons every three weeks.

The bigger turbines have slower rotation on the blades. These turbines are optimized for 15.5 RPM, which translates to 165 mph at the tips of the blades. The slower rotation is supposed to make the turbines quieter. For noise reduction they also implemented cooling motors, changed the blade design, changed the horsepower. When I was there, I could hear turbine noise from about 1000' feet away, a swooshy noise from about 500' away, and the noise from the cooling fans inside each tower was too loud to hold a conversation over, once we were about 500' away. I estimate the wind was blowing around 10 mph at the most at that time.

The generation facility uses around 700kW just sitting there, to keep the building running, transformers and other electrical equipment operational (see above, right). A Purewave DSTATCOM device looks at the line voltage to keep it static. There's constant cooling going on. There's something to do with megavars (7.5 MVAr per capacitor bank) to bring the inverters up or down (this uses up to 2 MW of energy).

Power output varies greatly seasonally and diurnally. Thursday morning's output was 21MW when the Manager checked it; Wednesday's was zero, Tuesday's was 88. ("Nameplate" (claimed) capacity for this installation is 100MW.) A company called Three-Tier makes predictions about power output 15 minutes in advance of generation and gives that to Arizona Public Service so they can adjust the load on their lines. Edison pays PNM to use the transmission lines.

PNM is upgrading the transmission lines between Willard and Belen - that will be done by mid-2010. The construction company built the roads but the County supposedly took over maintenance of the road. (This was news to the P&Z director.)

Setbacks for ice throw are defined as 1.5 times the tower height (637.5 feet, in this case). The Project Manager states that for their personal safety, they stay 1000 feet away during ice conditions. The tube towers can accumulate ice on one side, and that can come crashing down.

In emergency situations (bad injury), they'll most likely call for a helicopter. They are personally trained in high-altitude rescue, self-rescue, and rappelling down from the nacelle.

P&Z director noted that the locals were "shocked" at how visible the turbines are (they can be seen from Moriarty, 35 miles away) (see below). P&Z director also noted that they'd been told the red lights at the top of the tower would flash at night. What they hadn't been told is that they flash in unison, effectively becoming a 5-mile-long red strobe light.

End of Service Life (EOSL)
EOSL comes at about 30 years. When the turbines are at EOSL, they are turned over to the land owner for decommissioning. Torrance County P&Z manager says that at decommissioning, the land has to be returned back to the way it was - e.g., turbines removed, concrete removed, etc.

Future Plans in Torrance County
Karbon Zero is planning on bringing in a new wind turbine facility called the G3 Wind Project into Torrance County. It will cover approximately 133 square miles and generate up to 1,000 MW of power. Four meterological towers have been placed on-site for wind assessment, with one more planned later this year.

Berrendo Wind Energy (Boulder, CO) is planning on two new wind energy projects in Torrance County. Dunmoor will stretch from south of Clines Corners to Encino, with a 700MW nameplate capacity. Valencia Hills, southeast of Duran, will have a nameplate capacity of 150MW of power (see below).

The view from above.

Here is High Lonesome as seen from the air. These images, and more, were taken by local artist/engineer/pilot Bill Dolson.
His comments and other images can be found here or click an image to go there.

High Lonesome from the air 1

High Lonesome from the air 2

Mr. Dolson contibuted this comment on the report presented above:
"With regard to the excellent High Lonesome report from Amanda, she reports that the leaseholder is responsible for EOSL decommissioning. I would suspect that remediation would consume a large portion of the lease revenue. It would be interesting to see this analysis. If practice in other industries is any benchmark, the leaseholder would simply declare chapter 11 at the cessation of the lease, leaving removal and clean-up in the hands of the county or state, who of course would not have the funds to do so, meaning the blight on the landscape would be there indefinitely. This is a real long-term social liability for these sites that needs to be addressed in any ordinance."
This elicited the following response from another NMCARES member:
"You are correct. Without escrow funds on deposit, that would surely be an avenue for exit."


Here is a letter we received from a resident of the area around the High Lonesome Wind Ranch.

(Used by kind permission of the author.)
My name is Joy Raab-Faber. I am a student at UNM and live in MacIntosh, between Moriarty and Estancia.
I just now stumbled upon your website and found it very interesting. Often, returning home from school at night, I have thought how the prison lights in Estancia look like a gigantic birthday cake (ironic, no?). Now, since the wind generators landed, the mesa looks like it's decorated with crazed Christmas decorations.
Only a few weeks before they started construction on the wind turbines my husband and I rode out to Willard to see the salt flats. I had not seen them and a painter friend of mine said I should because they are beautiful. He was right. We went out as the sun was setting and there was a thin lake of rain water sitting on top of the flats, reflecting the fading light. The water faced the sky, dreamlike, gold and perfect. A slight breeze blew, we heard bird calls but no other sounds.
Near the road and at the historic marker it was clear people were using the site as a dump. The marker is full of shotgun bullet holes and the roadside is littered with broken beer bottles and bits of green and amber glass. The bigger debris, tires, construction remnants, etc., they've pushed over the roadside to tumble down onto the pristine flats.
I thought at the time how this place deserved to be a national monument or park. It was once used by Native Americans to gather salt. And as stated in the article on your site there are some archaeological mysteries there. I guess they thought with the abuse of the roadside and the railroad and the complete lack of concern or interest, or law enforcement, or effective governance in this area, it'd be the perfect place to plop industrial giants on the landscape.
It sickens me. This area is quiet and beautiful and unique and deserves protection. I once thought what a boon this green economy could be to the locals here. We have a lot of wind and hot air and a lot of open space including unused farmed land. But I don't remember reading anything about local hiring, or for that matter local involvement in the project at all. I can tolerate the blight on the landscape if it helps the people who have to look at it. But the idea that out-of-state corporations will reap the benefits and leave their mess for an obviously poor and under-served community is just plain wrong.
I'm broke and I will owe a huge debt when I finish school in May 2010. But if there is something I can do here, locally, I hope you'll help me help this community. We may be small and rural but neither the residents nor this unique and inspiring area deserve to be treated like we don't care what happens here.
Thank you for listening,

The Old & The New

High Lonesome 1
There's a certain irony in this idyllic and pastoral image of an old water-pumping windmill and cattle with the High Lonesome Wind Ranch in the background. Anybody who is familiar with wind-powered water pumps will notice that the sucker rods, which normally connect to the head/gearbox of the windmill (the part with the fan) to operate the lifting mechanism at the bottom of the well, have been removed and now dangle out limply from inside the tower, indicating that the wind pump has been disabled. Also visible are power lines which suggest the presence of an electric pump in its place, so, where these cattle were once watered directly by the wind, the electric company now stands in between.

And here are a couple of other images of relevance.

Current and Proposed New Mexico Wind Farms Wind Class at High Lonesome Wind Ranch

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