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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Science Center tracks potential for wind energy generation

CLOVIS - Spend a day in eastern New Mexico, and you'll see - and feel - the energy of the wind. From flag-flapping breezes and lonely windmills spinning in the wind to the massive, white wind turbines mounted atop more and more mesas, wind seems to be a constant here.

A tractor is used to help erect a wind monitoring station at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Clovis in November. The station is used to collect site-specific wind data at the center, 13 miles north of Clovis. (NMSU photo)

This proven, cost-effective and environmentally friendly source of power is well-known, but how can a site's wind resource be measured when it comes to determining suitability for development of a wind energy facility?

"Regional wind maps, which provide guidelines to an area's general suitability, indicate that large portions of eastern New Mexico are favorable for wind energy generation," said Rex E. Kirksey, superintendent of New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Centers at Clovis and Tucumcari. "Mean annual wind speed for these areas, at 150 feet above ground level, is estimated at 17 to 18 mph, which is very favorable for commercial wind energy production."

New Mexico, in the past three years, has experienced significant development of its wind energy resource, and in 2006 ranked fifth in the nation in wind generation capacity with 497 megawatts. All of the state's existing utility-scale wind farms, including the nation's fourth largest, are located in eastern New Mexico.

Of the commercial-scale wind turbines in New Mexico, four turbines, with a combined capacity of 2.64 megawatts, are located in Curry County, near Texico. Other larger projects include: New Mexico Wind Energy Center, near House, with 136 turbines and a capacity of 204 megawatts; Caprock Wind Ranch, near San Jon, with 80 turbines and a capacity of 80 megawatts; and San Juan Mesa, near Elida, with 120 turbines and a generation capacity of 120 megawatts. The Argonne Mesa project in Guadalupe County, with 90 turbines and a generation capacity of 90 megawatts, went online at the end of 2006 and is selling power to an Arizona electric utility.

One megawatt of electrical energy is roughly equivalent to the amount of energy utilized by 250 to 300 traditional homes. That means New Mexico's wind generation capacity is sufficient to provide the electrical needs of about 125,000 homes, or about one of every six New Mexico households. But, said Kirksey, the wind in New Mexico isn't constant, even though it may seem that way at times. Wind farms in eastern New Mexico generally operate in the 30- to 40-percent capacity range.

"Even though there has already been a significant investment in the development of wind energy in New Mexico, there are opportunities for additional development," Kirksey said.

To further investigate the feasibility of wind development on the plains of east-central New Mexico, the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Clovis has initiated a Wind Monitoring Project to evaluate the potential for wind energy generation at its location, 13 miles north of Clovis. The center erected a 50-meter meteorological (MET) tower in November 2006 and has begun collecting site-specific wind data. Staff members at the Clovis center are collaborating with personnel from the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) and College of Engineering at NMSU on data monitoring and processing functions, and additional analyses related to the potential for commercial wind energy production in east-central New Mexico.

"New Mexico is proud to be one of the national leaders for wind energy development because of our excellent wind resource and national electrical transmission grid access," said Robert Foster, IEE program manager. "The NMSU Clovis Ag Science Center and surrounding area have an excellent wind resource that can be commercialized and dovetails with existing agricultural practices. This can provide a significant revenue stream for local farmers who deploy turbines on their land."

Monthly summary reports from the Wind Monitoring Project can be obtained by contacting the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Clovis at (505) 985-2292 or from the center's Web site at http://clovissc.nmsu.edu.