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Editorial: NM should capitalize on wind momentum

New Mexico frequently finds itself at or near the bottom of many lists, including child well being, education and even economy. But our state recently hit it out of the park on one ranking, and it’s cause for celebration.

And replication.

We’re talking about the American Wind Energy Association naming New Mexico as the nation’s fastest-growing state for wind-energy construction. Our state added enough new turbines to produce 571 megawatts of electricity, bringing the amount of wind power we can produce to 1.68 gigawatts, or enough electricity to power about 422,000 average U.S. homes each year. That’s a whopping 51 percent increase.

Better still, our state is poised to double its wind generation in the near future, with 1.7 gigawatts of new wind construction projects currently in the pipeline for installation through 2020.

The momentum is such that the association, which is based in Washington, D.C., chose New Mexico as the state to unveil its annual report last week.

“It had the fastest growth rate of any state in the nation in 2017,” association spokesman Evan Vaughn said. “There’s tremendous momentum underway.”

The amazing growth we’re seeing in this environmentally sustainable industry is a big deal for New Mexico. It shows that our state is embracing wind energy, and that benefits us all – both economically and environmentally.

About 13.5 percent of electricity generated in New Mexico comes from wind energy. We’re one of only 14 states where wind provides more than 10 percent of total generation, although some of those states generate a significantly higher percentage of energy from wind.

New Mexico has already attracted about $3 billion in investments to date, and more than 3,000 people in New Mexico are employed in the industry. Those jobs encompass everything from construction to operations and maintenance. Indeed, wind technicians make up one of the two fastest-growing jobs nationwide, according to the association.

The industry particularly benefits rural communities, where most of the investments in wind energy are made. Those investments include rent payments to landowners. New Mexico property owners currently earn between $5 million and $10 million a year, according to Interwest Energy Alliance Executive Director Sarah Cottrell Propst. That’s money that can be used to stabilize family farms and ranches. Turbines don’t take up much space, so land owners are able to lease a portion of their property and continue using the rest for agricultural purposes.

Plus, wind farms generate much-needed local and state taxes, money used to pay for everything from police to parks.

On the environmental side, wind energy offset roughly 466,000 metric tons of carbon emissions last year, which is the equivalent of 99,000 cars. And unlike oil and gas extraction, it doesn’t take water to generate wind power. Indeed, the industry says wind energy saves water – enough to fill 144,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools last year alone, nationally.

That’s not to say wind turbines don’t impact the environment. Impacts include bird and bat deaths and even noise pollution. But on the whole, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Industry experts say New Mexico is one of the best places in the country to generate wind energy, with the state having the capability to generate far more than residents could ever use. Our state should be working to increase the percentage of energy we get from wind, and considering California’s energy mandate of 50 percent renewables by 2030 and rising zero-emission-vehicle quotas, New Mexico should be ramping up its wind export capabilities. Of course, that will require the permitting and building of more transmission lines. But given wind energy’s potential, that effort should be worthwhile.

New Mexico has a tremendous opportunity here to be a leader in renewable energy. Wind energy is a drought-proof cash crop, and New Mexico should do everything it can to harvest it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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