By Alisa Boswell
CMI staff writer
Eastern New Mexico officials have high hopes of a wind energy boom in the near future with projects such as Tres Amigas, the Brahms wind farm in Grady and a Roosevelt County wind farm all in the midst of being developed. But the key factor needed to encourage even further wind energy development is more transmission lines.
Transmission line development was the topic of the day Wednesday during the 2013 Pure Energy Expo at the Clovis Civic Center.
Speakers highlighted that New Mexico and West Texas can look forward to more transmission lines but development is a few years out.
“The biggest problem is who pays for it,” New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority Executive Director Jeremy Turner said Wednesday of why transmission lines are so difficult to bring to the state.
Turner, who was a guest speaker on the final day of the two-day expo, said bringing transmission lines to Texas is easier because the state has more money than New Mexico, but regulations and many other factors also play a role.
“It’s hard to summarize all the problems,” he said. “Transmission is complicated. No one has all the answers on it.”
Sherry Kunka, of Sharyland Utilities, updated expo attendees on the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) transmission lines being built from West Texas to east Texas.
“We’re on track and on schedule and we still plan to be up and running the end of the year,” she said.
Kunka said the more than 3,000-mile CREZ project includes 1,425 transmission towers and 302 miles of conductors.
She said milestones for the project were acquiring 302 miles of right-of-way, coordinating planning with other utilities, co-ops and the Texas Department of Transportation for line and highway crossings and constructing and placing in service four major collection stations and substations.
Keith Sparks, of Clean Line Energy Partners, updated officials on the Western Spirit and Centennial West transmission projects to provide power to the California energy market.
“The idea is to move these resources further southeast,” Sparks said, saying that New Mexico is abundant in renewable energy resources but does not have a heavy power demand as California does.
Sparks said once the Centennial West project is under way, it will create 5,000-plus construction jobs and 500-plus operation jobs and will run from New Mexico to California.
The 200-mile Western Spirit will create 1,750 plus construction jobs and 175 plus operations jobs will run from Guadalupe County to the Four Corners area.
Sparks said his organization hopes construction will begin in a year or two and that the project will be online by 2016 to 2017.
“I would say wind is definitely New Mexico’s strong suit with renewables,” said Southwestern Power President and CEO David Getts, who updated attendees on the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project.
The project is another export line intended to carry renewable power to California.
“We’ve got to build more transmission to utilize all this wind energy,” he said. “Commercially, that’s precisely what we’re trying to do.”
The line will run from Lincoln County in eastern New Mexico to the western side of Arizona.
Getts said the project is a “private sector approach” to developing renewable energy, so if the project were to go under, it would be Southwestern Power and its investors who would suffer.
“We think it’s a risk worth taking,” he said. “We are trying to offer a product that’s way less money than what’s on the market today. To me, that’s the most important factor. If we can’t do that, all bets are off.”
When asked if he thinks the Western Spirit and SunZia projects could connect together one day, Getts said the companies running the projects has not discussed the possibility to date but it could be a discussion in the future.
“Our eastern substation is about 20 miles from their line so it would be easy to connect them, “ he said. “The questions is what are the benefits?”
According to Getts presentation, construction for the SunZia project is expected to begin anywhere from 2015 to 2017 and be in operation sometime in 2017 to 2018.
Other topics discussed Wednesday at the 2013 Pure Energy Expo:
• Sarah Cottrell Propst, executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance, talked about renewable energy developments across the nation, saying that Colorado alone will be procuring 600 megawatts of solar energy this year.
She said Ohio is leading in obtaining wind energy with Illinois and California following in second and third place.
“What is the potential of wind in the U.S.?,” Propst asked. “It’s huge. We could power our states three times over.”
She said current challenges for developing wind are the following:
• Federal tax credits expire the end of 2013
• Renewables Portfolio Standards (RPS) are mostly being met
• Low to flat load growth
• Low natural gas prices
• California market (which has an in-state preference)
• Lack of transmission
She said for success with future renewable energy success, what southwest states need is:
• A competitively-priced product plus an active market place
• Solid siting transmission and operation policies
* Regional market opportunities
• Brian Hobbs , vice-president of Legal and Corporate Services of Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, explained the aspects of power plants and their technology, such as steam boilers and generators.
Hobbs highlighted the following as issues with developing wind energy:
• It’s intermittent and must be supplemented with constant generating sources
• Wind in remote areas where expensive, new transmission is needed
• “Not in my backyard” siting issues
• Renewable Energy Standards
• Dave Belote, of Apex Clean Energy, gave insight into how wind energy industries work with military agencies to have wind farms built near bases.
“Everybody wants assurances that they’re not going to lose use of their (training) range,” Belote said of military entities. “What you have to say right away is, ‘I understand what you have to do to complete your mission.”
Belote said energy assurity and energy security is the real goal when negotiating for wind farms near military bases.
He said unless turbines offer some form of electromagnetic interference, there is no reason a wind farm can’t be built near a military base.
“The federal government should do everything they can to get a yes or a partial yes for land owners,” he said.
Belote said two important factors in the process are using the DoD Siting Clearinghouse as a mechanism through which project applicants can resolve and mitigate issues and conducting mitigation/impact studies.