By Julia M. Dendinger, News-Bulletin Assistant Editor
August 16, 2018
Valencia County News-Bulletin
If all goes according to plan, a high-voltage transmission line will be carrying 1 GW of renewable power through Valencia County by late 2020.
The $1.5 billion Western Spirit transmission line will run a total length of about 140 miles, starting at the Mesa Canyons wind farm south of Corona in Lincoln County. The massive line will sit on a 150- to 400-foot wide easement, cutting a swath through Torrance, Socorro, Valencia, Bernalillo and Sandoval counties.
It will end at the PNM-owned Rio Puerco substation in Sandoval County, northwest of Rio Rancho, and the power will be sold to providers such as PNM.
The nearly 39 miles of transmission line will cross into Valencia County in the southeast corner of the county near the Tierra Grande subdivision, continuing on a northwest angle until it crosses the river south of Bosque.
It will continue west of Interstate 25, then head north along Belen’s west mesa, passing west of the Belen Alexander Municipal Airport and Huning Hill in Los Lunas, before crossing onto the Isleta Pueblo. The current route crosses nearly 400 privately owned parcels of land in Valencia County, all of which appear to be in unincorporated areas.
Representatives from Pattern Development, a development partner for the transmission line and owner or the Mesa Canyons wind generation facility which will provide power to the line, held an open house for landowners affected by the transmission line last week at the Belen Community Center.
Adam Renz, government relations and external affairs for Pattern Development, said the company acquired the project in May, so while there has been a lot done already, there’s still more work to do.
Pattern Energy Group 2 LP bought the transmission line project and the Mesa Canyons facility from Clean Line Energy Partners this spring. Both projects are targeted to come online in 2020.
The transmission line is a joint development between Pattern Development and the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority of New Mexico, which was created by the Legislature in 2007 under Gov. Bill Richardson. RETA is a governmental instrument to finance, plan, acquire, maintain and operate certain renewable transmission and energy storage facilities in concert with the private sector. New Mexico is one of eight states that have a transmission authority.
Although Clean Line started the project more than four years ago, also in partnership with RETA, and made initial contact with landowners along the route, Renz said Pattern is now revisiting property owners to get input about more precise placement of the line.
“Maybe it’s going though a field or they’ve started building in the proposed easement. We can get a lot of information from GIS mapping and things like Google Earth, but until we get on the ground, there are some things we just don’t know,” he said.
Once an easement agreement has been negotiated, landowners will get a portion of the compensation up front and the remainder once construction begins. Landowners will also be paid for having the structures on their property, either by a one-time payment or annual payments.
The project easement is expected to be needed for 30 years, and increases to property taxes on the individual properties will be paid by transmission line owner.
If negotiations with landowners fail, Pattern’s literature on the project says “condemnation remains an option of last resort.”
During previous open houses in Mountainair, Estancia and Albuquerque, Renz said most of the concerns people had were the visual impact of the project.
“We are still making adjustments to the route. We want to effect as few property owners as we can and route this in such a way that we are avoiding the greatest number of eyes,” he said. “We know these are not the most subtle structures.”
Renz said people also asked why the lines can’t be put in an existing easement owned by the railroad or PNM.
“We do look for the opportunity to run them adjacent to existing power lines or roadways, but for safety reasons, sometimes that’s not possible. You can’t put them one against another,” he said.
The lines will be carried on either tubular steel monopoles or H-frame structures, depending on terrain conditions and landowner preferences. The monopoles are 100- to 150-feet tall, and the H-frames range from 90 to 130 feet high.
If monopoles are used, there will be seven of them per mile versus five H-frames, with 1,000 feet and 800 feet line spans, respectively.
The transmission line will bring 300-plus construction jobs, Renz said, and communities closer to the Mesa Canyons facility, such as Mountainair, Willard and Corona, could see permanent jobs for wind technicians at the facility.
During the construction of the line, gross receipts taxes will be generated within the jurisdiction the project is in. Once completed, RETA is the anticipated owner transmission line, which will run straight through to Sandoval County with no secondary lines coming off to local communities.
The power generated by the Mesa Canyons facility will be sold by Pattern to power providers such as PNM, and possibly to some in southern Colorado, Renz said.
“This will increase the reliability and affordability of renewable energy in New Mexico. It’s a new ‘farm to market’ pathway for New Mexico green energy,” he said. “We can’t make the guarantee it will all stay in New Mexico, but unlike the SunZia (Southwest Transmission Project), which is transmitting power to California, this will terminate at a substation in New Mexico and have a better chance to stay here.”
Pattern Energy is the anchor tenant for the SunZia project and will provide the power for the line.
Renz said representatives for the project would make a presentation to Valencia County commissioners sometime in September.