By Jeff Stanfield
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
New Mexico utility regulators on Oct. 3 agreed to issue a permit for construction of Pattern Energy Group Inc.'s ambitious plan to install 2,200 MW of wind energy capacity across more than 300,000 acres in the east-central part of the state.
The state Public Regulation Commission approved the Corona Wind Projects consisting up to 950 wind turbines and about 80 miles of 345-kV transmission lines that Pattern Energy subsidiaries propose to install across three counties.
The PRC approved a joint application from limited liability companies under Pattern Energy that are named after the individual Ancho Wind, Cowboy Mesa, Duran Mesa, Red Cloud Wind, Telocote and Viento Loco projects and collectively are referred to as the Corona Wind Projects.
The projects would tie into SunZia Transmission's proposed 520-mile SunZia Southwest Transmission Project at the proposed SunZia East substation near Corona, N.M. The PRC denied approval of SunZia on Sept. 5, deciding it did not have enough information to approve the two 500-kV lines across 320 miles in New Mexico, although the Arizona Corporation Commission in early 2016 approved a permit for the 200-mile stretch that would cross the southeast portion of that state. Pattern Energy Group LP, known as Pattern Development and a privately held affiliate of publicly traded Pattern Energy Group Inc., is the transmission project's anchor tenant.
However, the New Mexico regulators rejected the transmission line without prejudice, meaning SunZia can submit a new application, which the developer has said it plans to do. SouthWestern Power Group II LLC is the major partner in the project. MMR Group Inc. is SouthWestern's parent company.
The SunZia project would be the main path for transmission of energy from the Corona projects, with the aim of selling the power to Arizona, California and possibly Utah. PRC Hearing Examiner Anthony Medeiros told the commissioners in a recommended decision Sept. 26 the status of the SunZia project has no bearing legally on whether the commission should approve the wind projects because the developers do not have show they have a means to deliver their power.
Pattern Energy is developing the wind projects at its own risk, Medeiros said, and the permit to construct can be issued based entirely on whether environmental and land use requirements have been met and whether the plans for the project are of sufficient detail to meet state statutory requirements. Unlike the commission's conclusion on the transmission project plans, Medeiros said the wind project plans meet the state requirements and he recommended approval, subject to 26 conditions such as compliance with air and water pollution controls and bird protection measures.
Medeiros echoed the claim of the wind developers that this project, which is anticipated to come online in 2020, would be the largest collection of wind facilities in the Western Hemisphere.
The site will encompass 292,000 acres of private property held by 40 land owners who have all signed options or leases for the projects, Medeiros said. An additional 34,000 acres are state trust lands, but he said he did not know the status of the developers' applications to the State Land Office. The site covers parts of Lincoln, Torrance and Guadalupe counties in New Mexico.
With that, Commissioner Patrick Lyons recused himself from voting on the application, saying he did not want any potential conflict of interest to arise since he is a candidate for state Commissioner of Public Lands in the Nov. 6 elections. Lyons' term on the PRC ends Dec. 31 and he is term-limited after serving two four-year terms. The other four commissioners unanimously voted to approve the wind projects. (New Mexico PRC Case No. 18-00065-UT)
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