The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, in a May 2 final order, approved a stipulation that addresses concerns of the commission’s Utility Division Staff regarding Sagamore Wind Energy LLC’s November 2017 application for location approval and right of way (ROW) width determination for the Sagamore Wind Energy Facility.
As TransmissionHub reported, the stipulation was entered into earlier this year by staff and Xcel Energy’s (NYSE:XEL) Southwestern Public Service (SPS).
Sagamore’s application requested that the commission grant approval to locate up to 522 MW nameplate capacity of wind energy generation facilities encompassing about 150,000 acres, and up to 20 miles of 345-kV transmission facilities in Roosevelt County, as well as an ROW width determination for a 180-foot ROW for the proposed transmission line.
The Sagamore Project would be primarily located on private land, may include about 18,000 acres of state trust land, and would not include any federal land, the stipulation added.
The current plans are that SPS would build, own, and operate the Sagamore Project, and that it would be operational by Dec. 31, 2020, in order to take advantage of the full federal production tax credit (PTC), according to the stipulation.
An Xcel spokesperson in April told TransmissionHub that the total construction cost for building the wind energy facility and the related transmission is estimated at about $825m.
As noted in the May 2 order, staff testified that its concerns included possible impacts to Lesser Prairie Chickens (LEPC), construction disturbance to residents especially at nighttime, placement of turbines close to 100-year floodplains, placement of underground collector cables, construction close to saline lakes and playas, construction dust, excessive idling of vehicles, excessive speeds on dirt roads, and unnecessary trimming of plants and shrubs in the ROW.
The commission also said in its order that SPS and staff – referred to as the signatories – maintain that the application and supporting testimonies and exhibits, as well as included obligations in the stipulation, demonstrate that the line will not unduly impair important environmental value and confirm that the line will not unduly impair important environmental values, such as avoidance and minimization of potential impacts to LEPC habitat.
In response to concerns expressed by governmental agencies regarding the LEPC, the signatories agreed that Sagamore would modify its southern boundary to provide a buffer between project facilities and a high priority habitat area for LEPCs, resulting in a 53,700-acre reduction of the area within which project facilities may be placed, referred to as the “Southern Buffer,” the commission said in its order.
Sagamore further noted in its application that it provided a 1.25-mile radius setback of wind turbines from known and active LEPC leks. The commission added that further protections to LEPC leks are set forth in the stipulation, where the signatories agreed that no turbines or vertical transmission structures are to be located in certain areas referred to as the Restricted Area. That agreement, the commission said, results in a further 19,897-acre reduction of the area within which project facilities may be placed. In sum, the Southern Buffer and the two Restricted Areas combine for a total 73,597-acre reduction in the area within which project facilities may be placed; a 30% reduction to the area within which project facilities may be placed within the 244,731-acre original outer project boundaries; and restrict the overall flexibility in turbine placement, the commission said.
In addition, the signatories’ agreement to limit construction activity during the LEPC breeding season avoids and minimizes potential adverse impacts to LEPCs that may use habitats near the construction activity by reducing noice and human activity near breeding and nesting habitats, the commission said.
The signatories assert that the stipulation confirms that the project will meet all statutory and regulatory requirements while providing significant environmental protections for various environmental resources, including air, water, and wildlife, as well as protections for local residents, including provisions to limit construction dust and noise, and regarding project decommissioning, the commission noted.
The signatories maintain that the stipulation will facilitate project implementation and realization of economic benefits for local communities and New Mexico citizens, the commission said, adding that SPS filed testimony regarding options to fund habitat mitigation and restoration projects for the LEPC. Towards that end, the commission said, SPS signed a letter of intent with the Lost Draw Conservation Bank to acquire LEPC preservation and restoration credits.
Among other things, the commission said that it concurs with the certification that it is reasonable to determine that the project, as conditioned by the stipulation, will include avoidance and minimization measures for the LEPC, plus SPS’ letter of intent to participate in the Lost Draw Conservation Bank provides additional mitigation for residual impacts to the LEPC, with that conclusion supported by the greater weight of the legally admissible evidence, including expert testimony on environmental impacts in the record. Those measures, in light of the other protections and benefits offered by the project, as conditioned by the stipulation, are in the public interest, the commission said.
As noted in the order, Sagamore is a direct, wholly owned subsidiary of Invenergy Wind Energy North America LLC.