Intel Outside: Expansion Plans Spark Environmental Concerns

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When Intel announced recently that the mega-corporation plans a $3.5 billion investment at its Sandoval County Rio Rancho plant, the news brought some applause from economic development folks, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. But for some people who live near the sprawling plant, this brings some apprehension.

Ramping Up

At a recent press conference, Intel executives, along with state and local politicos, announced the company’s plans to retool its 350,000-square-foot Sandoval County facility into a hub for advanced semiconductor manufacturing of stacking microprocessors, using a technology called Foveros. Production of a first chip, which is rumored to be fingernail-sized, should be happening in late 2022.

During the reconstruction of the plant, it is expected that there will be 1,000 construction jobs and, when the dust settles, the promise of 700 high-paying jobs over three years. At the end of 2020, the average Intel total compensation was $145,000. Economic gurus say this also means at least 3,000 more jobs in the greater area could be created. 

Intel has not made a major investment in New Mexico since 2009. But the company is getting a sweet deal from the government. In all, $5.75 million in Local Economic Development Act funds were given to Intel from the state, Sandoval County and the city of Rio Rancho. Changes made to the Local Economic Development Act during the last special legislative session made it possible to also offer a 50 percent rebate on gross receipt taxes generated during construction. Some estimate this rebate will equal about $14 million in savings. Pretty sweet deal.

Air and Water

The production of computer chips takes a lot of water. A lot of water. And uses a lot of chemicals. Volatile organic compounds, acids and inorganic compounds are disposed of in several ways: consumed in chemical reactions, captured in air pollution control devices, collected as hazardous or non-hazardous waste, emitted from the pollution control devices into the air or released in wastewater.

According to Intel the Rio Rancho plant can pump about 3,250 acre feet of water a year, provided that it offsets the impact by either returning water to the river or purchasing and transferring water rights to its well field. The plant also buys water from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority. An acre foot is the amount of water that it takes to cover one acre of land with one foot of water. Intel says it restored 118 million gallons of water back in 2019.

Under Intel’s Title V synthetic minor source air permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department, the manufacturer is allowed to release up to 94.7 tons of carbon monoxide, 95.7 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 96.7 tons of volatile organic compounds and 40.3 tons of hazardous air pollutants into the air each year. Very simply put, this means if you gathered up all the invisible particles that come out of the scrubber stacks at the plant and weighed them, you end up with around 325 tons. Intel spokeswoman Erika Edgerly said, currently, the plant is operating under the air permit limits.

Down Wind

Intel has perched above the western bluff overlooking Corrales for about 40 years. During those decades, some residents living to the east in the low-lying areas of Corrales and Rio Rancho have struggled with water and air quality issues. Since at least 1992, these residents have publicly raised concerns about odors and health problems they say are attributed to Intel’s air emissions.

In 2004, with the urging of the New Mexico Environment Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Corrales Environmental Working Group was formed to promote community dialog and to advocate for continuous environmental improvements at Intel’s New Mexico plant. The group includes an Intel…



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