Wind Projects Bring Needed Economic Development
Having spent over 40 years in the construction and development business in New Mexico, one thing has been a constant challenge: bringing new businesses and opportunities into our state. We may have beautiful natural landscapes, rich cultural traditions and some of the country’s best food, but unfortunately that hasn’t always translated into economic progress. However, we’re beginning to change that by tapping into another New Mexico constant: our strong winds.
Everyone knows the power of New Mexico’s wind – we’ve all seen it kick up huge dust clouds and wreak tumbleweed havoc. So it’s no surprise wind farms are beginning to dot our landscape. And with these wind projects comes the construction activity and business development we’ve been desperate for.
In 2017, no state added wind projects faster than New Mexico, and more are on the way. In fact, there are enough new wind farms under construction or in advanced development to double our installed wind capacity in the coming years.
That means we need workers to build, operate and maintain these projects. Over 2,000 workers in our state now have wind-related careers – a big deal when we have the second highest unemployment rate in the nation. And as we begin building out our wind pipeline, we’ll need even more construction workers and wind technicians, which happens to be the second-fastest growing job in America according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Wind projects are also bringing new opportunities to the rural communities in our state. Every year landowners are paid over $5 million in lease payments for hosting wind turbines on their property. Ranchers can graze their cattle right up to the base of a wind turbine, so day-to-day operations remain uninterrupted. But these stable wind payments can make a world of difference during years of drought or high commodity prices.
Rural communities are also gaining a substantial new source of revenue from wind farms. Because of population decline and lack of industry, these communities often have low tax bases. But wind revenue is changing that – New Mexico’s wind farms pay $8.5 million annually in state and local taxes. That creates new revenue that can be used to invest in schools, fix roads and fund emergency services.
Perhaps best of all, because of our wind resources, some of the world’s largest companies are choosing to come to our state. For example, Facebook decided to build a multibillion-dollar data center expansion in New Mexico, primarily because of our abundance of renewable energy. That expansion will bring high-tech jobs to New Mexico that didn’t previously exist, opening a range of entirely new career opportunities for our young people.
“Access to renewable energy, including abundant wind resources, was a key consideration in Facebook’s decision to triple the size of their New Mexico data center, representing a $1 billion investment in addition to more than 200 megawatts (MW) of wind and 80 MW of solar investment,” the company wrote on the Facebook page of the Los Lunas Data Center.
Having spent much of my career in the construction business, I can assure you I used to curse the wind along with every other New Mexican who earns a living outdoors. However, those days are over. Today, I recognize these gusts bring us the resources and new opportunities we need to create a better future. Suddenly the wind doesn’t seem so bad.