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Residents seek strict turbine rules

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By David Giuliani

Dozens of Bernal-area residents showed up at this week’s County Commission meeting to seek tougher restrictions for wind farms.

They are responding to an effort by Chicago-based Invenergy to put up wind turbines in their area.

The company has yet to submit an application to the county, but it has signed a two-year option on more than 7,000 acres of state trust land atop the mesa for the turbines.

Residents say they’re concerned about the unsightliness of the turbines, the noise and the effects on wildlife.

Gloria Luz Gonzales served as their spokeswoman during the commission meeting. She presented proposed amendments to the county’s 2003 ordinance on wind turbines.

While commending the county for being one of the first to create such an ordinance, she said it needed changes to better protect residents.

The residents’ proposal would bar a wind farm from being closer than eight miles to any occupied residence.

As it stands, the county’s ordinances setback rules depend on the height of towers, among other factors. In the Bernal area, the setback would be a mile, said Alex Tafoya, the county’s planning and zoning supervisor.

Gonzales said the wind at Bernal is marginal but that the company considers it a good site because of the access to transmission lines. Some residents have said that they don’t like the idea of turbines in New Mexico sending energy to states such as California, but Invenergy has maintained that its first choice would be to sell the electricity to a utility company in this state.

“It’s not that we’re crybabies or NIMBYs (not in my back yard). This will be outside my front door. My door opens to the mesa,” Gonzales said. “I love my home in the Valley. I’m deeply connected to the earth. The mesa is my soul.”

She asked for a moratorium on accepting new wind turbine applications while the county amends its ordinance. She said her group — New Mexico Citizens for Responsible Energy — wants to present similar amendments at the state level.

She also expressed concern that County Commissioner Albert Padilla, who didn’t attend the meeting, was considering entering an agreement with Invenergy to lease land for wind turbines. She suggested that Padilla not participate in any decisions related to the company.

County officials said that commissioners have to file financial disclosure forms for conflicts of interest.

County Manager Les Montoya recommended that county staffers meet with residents concerned about wind turbines and come up with a solution to the problem.

“We would ask that we begin the process,” he said.

Andrés Aragon, a county resident, said he, too, opposed the wind turbines. He said the county should trump the State Land Office on such issues.

“I think it’s all about money. If you follow the money, that tells you the whole story,” he said to applause.

County Attorney Jesus Lopez said the county may enact a moratorium as long as it could show that it was done so for the interests of residents’ health, safety and welfare.

Gonzales said time was of the essence.

The commissioners generally agreed to have staffers meet with residents.