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NM tops nation in wind-energy growth

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico ranked as the nation’s fastest-growing state for wind-energy construction last year, according to a new report from the American Wind Energy Association.

The state added enough new turbines to produce 571 megawatts of electricity, growing installed capacity by 51 percent to 1.68 gigawatts, according to the association’s 2017 annual market report, released this morning in Santa Fe. That’s enough electricity to power about 422,000 average U.S. homes every year.

And New Mexico could maintain front-running status for another couple of years, with 1.7 GW of new wind construction projects now in the pipelines for installation through 2020, said association spokesman Evan Vaughn.

“New Mexico is poised to double its wind generation in the near term,” Vaughn told the Journal’s editorial board on Monday. “It had the fastest growth rate of any state in the nation in 2017. There’s tremendous momentum underway.”

The Washington, D.C.-based association chooses a different state each year to unveil its annual report. It released this year’s study in a press conference at the Roundhouse to honor the state for its leadership in wind generation.

Nationwide, installed capacity grew by nearly 9 percent last year to nearly 89 GW. That’s enough electricity to power about 27 million homes, representing about 6.3 percent of the country’s total generating capacity.

New Mexico now derives about 13.5 percent of its electricity from wind energy. It’s one of only 14 states where wind turbines provide more than 10 percent of total generation, although some states use much more, with up to 30 percent in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

The association reports about $145 billion in wind energy investments nationwide over the last decade, including $11 billion last year. About 105,000 people now work in the industry, including 23,000 in manufacturing.

New Mexico has attracted about $3 billion in investments to date, with more than 3,000 people employed here.

“Employment runs the full gamut, from front-end field workers who assess wind resources and work with local communities to construction jobs and long-term employment for operations and maintenance folks,” said John Hensley, association director for research and analytics. “Wind technicians make up one of the two fastest-growing jobs nationwide alongside solar installers.”

It particularly benefits rural communities, which absorb about 99 percent of investment, Hensley said. It also generates substantial local and state taxes, plus income for land owners.

In New Mexico, property owners now earn between $5 million and $10 million annually, said Interwest Energy Alliance Executive Director Sarah Cottrell Propst.

“It’s an economic development tool that helps to diversify the economy with competitive, high-paying jobs,” she said.

It’s also good for the environment, offsetting 189 million metric tons of carbon emissions last year, or the equivalent of 40 million cars. In New Mexico, it offset about 466,000 metric tons, or about 99,000 cars.

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