Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ranchers’ Wind Farm In Its Planning Stages

By John Larson

SOCORRO – A plan is underway by local ranchers to take advantage of the windy conditions of the Plains of San Agustin to produce electricity. Mike Hernandez and Walter Olmstead are part of a cooperative made up of 14 ranchers, who have elected to let their acreage be used for a wind farm.
The goal of the San Agustin Wind Project is to install 80 to 100 foot tall towers topped by turbines which would have the potential of producing 600 megawatts of power.

Hernandez said his hope was that their properties – over 50,000 acres combined - could turn a profit, “if not with cattle, then with a wind farm – and still keep cattle.”
Hernandez believes such a massive project could also be a source of jobs.
“Walter and I were talking about this idea while fixing a fence four years ago, and thinking about what we leave behind,” he said. “The younger generation leave, and they’re gone. There’s nothing to come back to. This gives them a reason to come back here to live.
“With this new project we can maximize use of our land and at the same time offer employment for the local area,” he said. “We started working in earnest on a workable plan about one year ago.”
It is estimated that up to 200 people will be needed for the construction phase, and then about 170 for maintenance on the wind farm.
“We’re talking serious economic development,” Hernandez said.
The landowners’ cooperative, San Agustin Ranchers Co-op (STARCO), have partnered with Private Energy Systems, Inc., of Oakdale, Minnesota.
PES Project Coordinator Sherry Faust told the Mountain Mail Thursday that the company is ready to proceed with a feasibility study.
“This joint venture provides the rancher much more wherewithal in return than has been the norm for wind companies,” Faust said. “I’ve been a New Mexico ranch real estate broker for many years and ran into the problem of wind companies reaping all the rewards, and the rancher leasing his land for a pittance.
“It was this injustice that led me to join forces with Private Energy Systems which was willing to establish an equity partnership with the ranchers, giving them an ownership position and committing to the local community’s economy,” she said.
The company’s president, David Ault, said the wind farm promises to boost the economy of Socorro and Catron counties with new construction jobs, maintenance jobs, and administrative and management jobs.
“We can do something about the economic problems facing our communities with this business model and new technology solutions,” Ault said. “Our company has as one of its goals, bringing a new industry to the area in conjunction with local land owners.”
He said PES and STARCO also plan to establish a grant fund for local community high school students to earn college scholarships.
“All of this is in the planning stage. We have yet to complete project feasibility studies,” Ault said. “At this stage, we are planning a project that could well be close to a billion dollar investment.”
The Plains of San Agustin Wind Farm construction is slated to begin before the end of this year.

Pictured: Private Energy Systems Project Coordinator Sherry Faust and ranchers Mike Hernandez and Walter Olmstead dropped by the Mountain Mail to discuss plans for the San Agustin Wind Project.

Photo by John Larson

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