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Poco Wind #2 “New Mexico Wind and CTE”

Picture yourself. 260 feet off the ground. Strapped in with safety harnesses. Working in the out-of-doors, with a great view. Earning lots of money in your base paycheck, plus overtime, often plus per diem. Near or in central New Mexico. Working on 21st-century wind turbines.

Wind turbines, “four blades and a tail”, have been hard at work in central New Mexico for a long time, since the 1850s–1870s, pumping water for livestock. Later, small wind-powered electrical generators between 5 kW and 25 kW were also used to light up homesteads, ranch houses, and mines as late as the 1930s, when the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) created New Mexico rural electric Coops to bring electricity to more isolated rural communities. Just like electricity in the cities.

Wind turbines
Clayton 200 kW wind turbine with lattice tower.

Larger commercial wind energy turbines trailed far behind. A brief turbine experiment in New England during WWII expired. The initial, first-generation commercial wind turbine in New Mexico (only the second in the entire US), a 200 kW unit, was erected in 1977 by the DOE Federal Wind Energy Program at Clayton NM, connected to the Town of Clayton Light and Water Utility. The two-blade unit only operated when wind speeds were at or above 14 mph, providing modest amounts of electricity to the Town of Clayton.

wind turbine
High Lonesome Wind Farm, Willard, 2011

We’ve come a long way since then, thanks to lots of science and engineering innovation. Early utility-scale commercial wind farms started in California in 1981. The first utility-scale wind energy farm in New Mexico was energized years later, in 2003, northwest of Fort Sumner, a 204 MW farm known as the New Mexico Wind Energy Center. The Center provides power for PNM through a  transmission line from Blackwater Draw near Portales, on westward to Albuquerque. Others gradually followed, with three blades, tall tubular tower turbines needing only 8 mph average wind speed to generate massive amounts of electricity.

Today, New Mexico has 30 wind farms: 20 in operation, 4 under construction, and 6 in earlier stages of development. In 2018, with several thousand towers, New Mexico became known as the fastest-growing producer of wind energy in the United States, attempting to meet its 435 billion KWH annual wind estimated potential. More farms are in the way! New or old, wind turbines or the wind farms they now populate, have lots of moving parts and need regular monitoring and maintenance.

Enter career-technical education (CTE) and the New Mexico Center for Wind Energy Excellence at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari. An operations and maintenance technician (tech) is needed for every 10–15 turbines on a wind farm. Hundreds of technicians are now needed for New Mexico’s second-fastest-growing job. In deference to our agricultural history, the wind tech workforce is sometimes called “wind cowgirls or cowboys”. Where will the 17 wind energy companies now operating in New Mexico find this highly trained workforce? Mesalands and Region 9 CTE has the training program for you or for someone you know. Now.

You can start Wind Tech training in high school as a dual credit junior or senior student. Or when you’ve finished high school or earned your GED. Or even later, when you want to start a second or third career. The wind industry needs everybody! Picture yourself on that tower high in the sky. Start now! Call Andy Swapp at (435) 463.2288 for more information and to obtain enrollment assistance.

Next Week: let’s put the wind tech training under the microscope.

Please email your news and comments to Dr. Jim Miller.

By Dr. Jim Miller