BY KEVIN ROBINSON-AVILA / JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, January 13th, 2021 at 3:44pm
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pattern Energy held a virtual groundbreaking Wednesday for its Western Spirit Wind Development project in central New Mexico – the largest single wind complex planned to date in North America.
Pattern is constructing four wind farms near Corona that will span Torrance, Lincoln and Guadalupe counties, plus a 155-mile transmission line to carry the electricity to a substation west of Albuquerque, and then onto California. The $2 billion endeavor will provide 1,050 megawatts of electricity when it comes online in late 2021, Pattern CEO Mike Garland told about 300 participants in the online ceremony.
“It’s a game changer,” Garland said. “At 1,000 MW, it’s like a large nuclear facility. That’s never been done before in North America.”
Larger wind complexes do operate in other states, but those are conglomerates of wind farms built over time. In contrast, Western Spirit facilities are being built all at the same time and all for delivery to a single point on the grid, said Pattern Vice President for North American Development Cary Kottler.
“It’s the largest single-phase project in the country until now,” Kottler told the Journal. “We’re breaking new ground here.”
It’s a turning point for New Mexico, not just because of its massive size, but because it includes construction of the state’s first new major transmission line dedicated to renewable energy. That’s critical to tap into the state’s vast wind and solar resources, said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
“The missing link to open up New Mexico’s full potential is building more transmission,” Heinrich told event participants. “It connects the dots between the best wind and solar resources available and the markets where it’s needed.”
The transmission line is actually joint public-private project with New Mexico’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority, which owns the line. Once constructed, Public Service Co. of New Mexico will acquire it.
Western Spirit will supply electricity to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and to the City of San Jose in northern California.
“It will bring reliable wind power from New Mexico to help power our city,” said LADWP General Manager Martin Adams. “331 MW will go to Los Angeles consumers, representing 6% of our entire renewable portfolio.”
Western Spirit will generate about $16 million in land lease payments for the State Land Office over the life of the project, and millions more for some 50 private landowners. It will employ about 1,000 people in construction this year, plus at least 60 permanent employees later.
Pattern has long-term plans to invest $6 billion more in another 3,000 MW of wind farms in central New Mexico, but that depends on more transmission being built.