By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Community leaders got a closer look at how Xcel Energy brings the local communities power and the company’s future plans at what Xcel calls its Customer and Community Xchange meeting Wednesday in Portales.
The meeting was one of six in Xcel’s Texas-New Mexico service area this week and brought leaders and customers up to speed regarding Xcel’s future projects.
Jeff Stebbins, Xcel’s manager of transmission line performance, gave the audience an idea of how transmission lines are constructed and talked about the use of light detection and ranging to help map Xcel’s transmission system.
He broke down the transfer of energy from into three stages including generation, transmission and distribution.
“In 31 years of work, we’ve never seen a build out like we’re doing right now ,” Stebbins said, “and a lot of it is in New Mexico.”
Xcel announced in late July that it is investing in a $24.7 million project for new and updated lines in Portales. The project will consist of three 115 kilovolt lines and should all be completed by 2018.
Stebbins said workers traditionally used ground survey methods, which involves the use of electronic survey instruments and GPS. More recently, Xcel has been using lasers to scan areas that allows workers to measure through vegetation.
A few audience members were curious as to why Xcel can’t construct the transmission lines underground.
Stebbins said building lines underground takes away the company’s flexibility in the future when it comes to expansion because it is difficult to dig the lines up. He added that underground lines are costlier.
Seth Thomason, Xcel’s director of business customer relations, talked about the Southwestern Public Service territory of Xcel, which encompasses Portales and Clovis. Thomason said SPS has 15,827 miles of distribution lines.
Thomason said that coal makes up 49 percent of the fuel used for homes in the SPS area and natural gas comes in as a close second with 42 percent. But Thomason wind has made quite an impact in 10 years, going from 0 to 7 percent.
“Wind continues to be a player economically. Federal taxes make it more competitive,” Thomason said.
Thomason added that the construction of the new lines in Portales will give Xcel access to more power markets and ties them into the energy grid.
“If we should lose lines on our system, we have a lot more capability,” Thomason said.
He also talked about Xcel’s service to the local community to which Portales MainStreet Director Sandy Van Der Veen testified. Van Der Veen said through Xcel’s $8,000 donation to her program, she was able to redirect the money to downtown businesses for beautification projects.