Wind is being turned into electricity with the growth of renewable energy production in southern Torrance County.

El Cabo, according to business development director for Avangrid Renewables, Mark Stacy, is a 298 mega-watt facility with 149 wind turbines currently in operation in Torrance County northwest of Encino that began operation more than a year ago.

Annual payments to Torrance County by Avangrid Renewables, developers of El Cabo, amount to about $1 million per year and a similar amount is paid to land owners in lease payments, Stacy said.

He said that during construction of the project, they employed over 400 workers and now have 17 full-time employees at the facility and some of those workers are long-time residents of the area.

Pacific Wind Development, LLC, a division of Avangrid, recently was granted permission by the Torrance County commission to add another 306 megawatts to the El Cabo project. The expansion would be on the Harvey-Encino Ranch, Stacy said.

Pacific Wind Development is also planning to begin construction of a new project, the La Joya-Lucia project, late this summer or fall with completion projected for late 2020, Stacy said. It will be located 15 miles west of Encino and south of Highway 60, he explained.

Stacy said it is part of a Purchase Power Agreement (PPA) with PNM to supply power for the Facebook facility in Los Lunas with the first phase generating 166 mega-watts, and when two phases are complete it would produce 306 mega-watts.

Torrance County commission approved the introduction of an ordinance to issue industrial revenue bonds for the project totaling $675 million on March 27. The county will welcome public comment on the project and vote on the bond issue at the April 24 commission meeting at 205 Ninth Street, Estancia at 9:00 a.m.

Other approvals are pending from The Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense which have been delayed due to the government shutdown, Stacy said, adding, “I’m confident it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Stacy said their payments to Torrance County and the school district from the La Joya facility would amount to about $900,000 per year over 25 years.

Development of more electrical generation in Torrance County would require PNM to upgrade its transmission system, which is now at capacity, according to Stacy.

PNM has requested approval by the Public Regulatory Commission (PRC) to build a new transmission line called the BB2 to run from near Clines Corners to Albuquerque, Stacy said. Hearings with the PRC have been held and a decision is pending by early May, he explained, adding, “It’s crucial” to the project going forward.

Regarding the grid’s capacity, Stacy told The Independent, “I would like to do development beyond the La Joya project.”

Victor Gallegos, an Encino town councilor and his wife, Tracie, own The Encino Fire House Mercantile & Deli. He told The Independent that during construction of the first phase of El Cabo, “They gave us a lot of business, they would order food from us and we would deliver it to where they had their offices set up,” adding, “We made 200 burritos for their safety meetings.”

Gallegos said they would make lunch and dinner every day for the substation crew, and said, “They kept us extra busy.”

The Vulcan Materials Company in Encino provided crushed rock to the project for foundations, according to Gallegos. “They would rent places to park trailers or rent houses,” he said, adding, “All the trailer parks in Vaughn were full and all the houses they had that were available and Mountainair, Estancia and Moriarty. It lasted over a year.”

He said that some construction workers were hired from Corona and Vaughn. Tracie Gallegos said a young man from Encino was hired permanently, as well as some workers from Santa Rosa.

“We’re going to need something to replace gas and this will help with that,” Encino mayor Boyd Herrington said. “Gas will only last so long.”

Encino mayor Boyd Herrington

“We have no motel, we only have one café,” Herrington said, explaining, “We don’t get too much [money] now because we have nothing to give them.”

Herrington, looking ahead, said, “Right now, I don’t know where he is or who he is, but somebody’s planning on making these windmills obsolete, you can bet on it. But I don’t know what you’d do except go ahead and put them in, they’re the latest technology we have right now.”

“As far as the windmills, I’m for them,” Herrington said, “I support them but I’m kind of worried about them putting in this many because they’ll be obsolete.”