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Some claim wind rules too restrictive

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By David Giuliani

The San Miguel County Commission is considering a proposed ordinance that would keep wind farms three miles away from residences.

The only exception would be when all affected residents within a three-mile area agree to a variance.

However, some believe the three-mile setback is too restrictive, effectively keeping out wind farms.

For the last year and a half, a county task force has been drafting the proposed ordinance. During that time, the county has had a moratorium on wind farms.

The county doesn’t have any wind farms now, and no applications are pending. But  Chicago-based Invenergy has expressed an interest in setting up a farm on the mesa in the Bernal area.

During a public hearing Tuesday, a number of speakers urged the commission to reject the three-mile setback.

“When we look at this wind ordinance, we see that there would be no wind energy in this county,” said Cecilia Abeyta of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau.

She said just one wind farm in Guadalupe County is bringing $200,000 in taxes to local government coffers.

“You don’t want to drive out potential revenue-generating projects from your county,” she said.

She said just about all of the members of the task force creating the ordinance sound like they’re against wind energy.

Evelyn Aragon Padilla, an employee with the Las Vegas-San Miguel Economic Development Corporation, called the task force “very biased.”

“They have taken their position and run with it,” she said. “Let’s look at the fact that youth are leaving our area because there are no jobs here.”

Thrice she referred to herself as a local native.

“Because I’m a native, I have to express myself,” she said, contending that wind farms are beautiful.

Others, however, backed the ordinance.

“The three-mile limit perhaps could be greater, but it’s reasonable. If the San Miguel County commissioners are not willing to protect residents, I’m not sure who will,” said Ellen Drew, a task force member.

County Attorney Jesus Lopez said the proposed ordinance would likely survive a court challenge. In an earlier draft, the ordinance included an eight-mile setback, which likely would have been overruled by the courts, he said.

“You have a really good, well-balanced ordinance,” he said.

Several speakers said the ordinance should go to the voters. But County Commission Chairman Salazar said it was the commission’s duty to enact ordinances.

He also defended the task force.

“People say that the task force was partial. The County Commission gave everyone, including wind energy people, a chance to serve on the task force,” he said. “If they didn’t, we couldn’t force them.”

Salazar said he was informed by county staff that a wind industry representative attended task force meetings but said little.

“When people say we formed a task force to stop wind energy in this county, that’s totally wrong,” he said, adding that no decisions have been made on the setback. “No matter how I vote, I won’t keep everyone happy.”

The County Commission was asked to approve a resolution to begin the process of adopting the ordinance. But the commission decided to hold off until next month when a wind-industry attorney could speak.