The Western Spirit high voltage transmission line, one of two such projects planned to carry wind generated power from Torrance County to the southwest grid, received approval of a newly created, high voltage, wind energy tariff by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, July 9.
The transmission line is a joint project by Pattern Development and the state’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority, with Pattern providing capital and expertise in developing the project, according to Johnny Casana, Senior Manager of Government Relations for Pattern Development.
Pattern is also the developer of the Corona wind farm project in southern Torrance County, a consortium of six wind energy companies. On Nov. 13, Pattern gained approval of the Torrance County commission to issue an Industrial Revenue Bond for $1.82 billion for the project.
Casana said while now in the process of securing land acquisitions and bank financing, Pattern expects construction of the Western Spirit transmission line to begin “by the middle of next year,” and become operational by the end of 2021, coinciding with the wind farm coming online.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of construction workers will be needed to build the wind farms and transmission lines over the next four years, according to Casana. Pattern hires local workers and contractors, and purchases many materials locally, he said, adding, “general economic stimulus” accompanies such projects.
On previous projects, Pattern filled permanent positions with wind techs and operators from Mesalands Community College. “We hired more than half of their graduating class last year,” Casana said.
He said they are 30-year jobs that pay 20 to 40 percent more than average jobs in the area and don’t require a four-year degree.
Regarding Mesalands’s plan to establish a satellite campus in Moriarty, Casana said, “We certainly hope they do, and if they do, we’ll be sourcing a lot of employees from there over the next few years.”
Wind turbine projects can be financed through county-issued Industrial Revenue Bonds, which bring funds directly to counties and school districts. Existing wind power generation in Torrance County provides nearly $1 million in payments in lieu of taxes to the county’s budget annually.
Such payments are also made to school districts within the boundaries of the wind farm.
Current state law does not provide for IRB financing of transmission lines, according to Casana.
The Corona wind farm project plans a footprint in Torrance, Guadalupe and Lincoln Counties, and includes the Estancia, Vaughn and Corona school districts.
Casana said, the recent FERC approval of the new rate class would allow the project to move forward, “FERC oversees any high voltage transmission operator, including PNM.”
The new “high voltage, wind energy tariff,” means Pattern would pay for the line as a “separate and discrete class of ratepayer,” apart from commercial and retail ratepayers, Casana said. “The cost for the line will be entirely borne by the wind farm.”
The Western Spirit line would transmit 1,300 megawatts of electricity at 345-kilovolts of AC, according to project data.
Executive director of RETA , Fernando Martinez, said, “The wind generating facilities go hand-in-hand with the transmission, because you can’t have one without the other.”
Martinez said RETA was established in 2007 to “plan, finance, develop and acquire high voltage transmission lines and energy storage, to promote economic development in New Mexico.”
Currently in development in Torrance County are the 306-megawatt La Joya wind farm, and Pattern’s 1,300-megawatt Corona wind project. By comparison, Hoover dam produces a maximum of 2,080 megawatts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Casana said adding the Corona wind farm output to PNM’s system would require PNM to upgrade its system. Pattern agreed to pay PNM to build the Western Spirit transmission line, with payments over 40 years plus interest, according to Casana.
Casana said, “There is an agreement in place between Pattern and RETA and PNM, where PNM is going to acquire the line at the instant that it becomes commercially operational.”
Casana said the cost of the Western Spirit line would be “around $360 million,” with Pattern, “bringing about $70 million to the development, and that is all shareholder dollars, not ratepayer dollars.”
Martinez said, when RETA receives a request from a developer for financing a transmission line project, they obtain bonds on the public market. He said the state is not financially obligated.
According to Martinez, the Western Spirit line would stretch 155 miles. The project map shows it routed from a planned substation southwest of Albuquerque, south around the Manzano Mountains, and back north through Torrance County to a substation north of Clines Corner.
Martinez said the line “gives us the ability to deliver power to markets in the western United States that have the demand for this clean energy.”
SunZia is the second transmission line planned to serve the coming wind power in Torrance County, including output from the Pattern’s planned Corona project.
Known as a “merchant line,” Casana said, SunZia is being developed by, and is owned by Southwestern Power Group, a private entity. “But Pattern has 100 percent of the rights to send power across that line. It will be our wind projects that will be serviced by that line,” Casana said.
Project data states the line could carry up to 3,000-megawatts at 500-kilovolts.
According to the project map, the 520-mile-long SunZia line would run from south of Corona, across the southwest corner of Torrance County, and then south and west to a substation north of Bowie, Arizona.
A recent New Mexico law set the goal of achieving 50 percent renewable energy in 10 years and 80 percent in 20 years. “We have some of the best solar, geothermal and wind resources in the United States,” according to Martinez.