Wind farm backed

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The Torrance County Commission on Wednesday gave a warm endorsement to Iberdrola Renewables, the company planning to build El Cabo, a huge wind farm northwest of Encino, giving a green light to a $450 million industrial bond issue to induce the company to get started.

The Torrance County Commission on Wednesday gave a warm endorsement to Iberdrola Renewables, the company planning to build El Cabo, a huge wind farm northwest of Encino, giving a green light to a $450 million industrial bond issue to induce the company to get started.

Commissioner Lonnie Freyburger said he "happily" moved to approve a resolution for the bond. "I welcome you with open arms," he told Mark Stacy, the director of development for Iberdrola, and an attorney representing the company, Daniel Alsup of Albuquerque's Modrall Sperling.

According to the New Mexico State Land Office, the project will create hundreds of jobs, save millions of gallons of water, greatly reduce carbon emissions, and provide electrical power to hundreds of thousands of homes.

This week's resolution essentially signals the county's intent to issue the bonds, an issue that will likely be taken up again next month. Alsup assured the panel that the bonds will not cost the county anything and that all construction costs will be paid by Iberdrola.

The inducement to Iberdrola is a big tax break, although the company will be required to pay an undisclosed amount to the county in lieu of taxes.

Stacy said the project includes some 87,000 acres of private land leases, and Iberdrola is now in the process of leasing state land as well — 34,000 acres. A public auction is scheduled for Sept. 19 at the Torrance County Courthouse for the state land lease.

The first phase of construction, which could begin as soon as this year, is expected to include 149 wind turbines that would generate nearly 300 megawatts of energy. Iberdrola has already reached an agreement with PNM for 1,000 megawatts, and is seeking a total of 1,200, Stacy said.

He anticipated as many as three additional construction phases.

An authorization from the Army Corps of Engineers is needed before construction can begin, Stacy said. The company has already spent enough on the project to assure a sizeable federal tax credit, even though that credit expires later this year. He seemed sure that commercial production would begin next year or, at the latest, 2015.

Other meeting actions

Commissioners also granted an administrative leave for County Manager Joy Ansley to attend a preliminary court hearing on 10 felony charges in Albuquerque next week.

The hearing is scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the Bernalillo County Courthouse.

Ansley is charged with fraud, making or permitting false public statements, and conspiracy, in a case going back several years. The state Attorney General's Office alleges that soon after becoming county manager, she granted a contractor friend special consideration regarding several county contracts that wound up costing taxpayers roughly $500,000.

She has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

The contractor, Chris Valdez of Estancia, faces identical charges, and has also pleaded not guilty.

Also on the agenda at Wednesday's meeting were two requests from the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority, one to raise annual trash pickup fees from $154 to $180 over four years, the other for an allocation of $48,000 to help the agency defray costs for one year. That amount would increase in a few years to $150,000 annually.

But the commissioners — at least for now — said no.

Commissioner Leanne Tapia, conceding that the issue was a "really tough" one, suggested that the agency's director, Joseph Ellis, consider shutting down a few of the EVSWA's underused pickup stations, or at least scaling back services.

As for the $48,000 requested for this year, Freyburger told Ellis, "We don't have it. Period."

He added he could not in good conscience vote to raise rates on consumers in light of the fact that the agency pays 100 percent of health-care insurance for its unionized workers and 95 percent for administrators. In contrast, the county pays a mere 46 percent.