SANTA FE, N.M. — A proposed eastern New Mexico wind energy project that will be the subject of a public hearing next week has a large group of backers but also faces a substantial number of opponents, including staff at the state’s utility regulation commission.

Hundreds of wind turbines would be erected near the town of Portales close to the Texas border under the proposal by Minnesota-based energy giant Xcel Energy, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Sunday.

Xcel subsidiary Southwestern Public Service Co. has said the project would create hundreds of construction jobs and more than two dozen permanent ones when it is completed.

It is backed by local town leaders, educators, state legislators, village councilors and county commissioners who wrote to the state Public Regulation Commission this summer.

But the commission’s own staff has called the project “fraught with risk.” It is also opposed by conservationists who worry about its effect on the habitat of two birds: the lesser prairie chicken and the rare grasslands grouse.

A public hearing on the case is scheduled to begin next week and the commission will consider the proposal after that hearing.

Xcel said its wind farm will power more than 100,000 homes and that customers would save several billion dollars in coming decades. The promised regional economic development from an environmentally sensible energy alternative has drawn the backers. The company has also proposed a second new wind farm in Hale County in western Texas.

Brooke Trammell of Southern Public service called the New Mexico project a “win-win-win,” with the state and area benefiting from gross receipts taxes during construction, Southwestern customers saving up to $2.8 billion in the next 25 to 30 years and the utility itself earning savings from lower-cost and clean power.

But Southwestern is seeking to recover revenues and tax credits from the time the wind system is operational to when it would be included in the rate base.

In testimony prepared for the hearing, John J. Reynolds of the state commission’s utility division said “there are no assurances that customers would realize” the benefits claimed by Southwestern and that ratepayers were “being asked to make a significant leap of faith.”

Southwestern “is telling customers: ‘I have a deal for you. Give me $1.6 billion for a project you don’t need and you may be able to save more than the cost of that project, but there’s no guarantee that you will,'” Reynolds wrote.


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com