No way out: Unbuilt transmission key to tapping stranded wind in NM

The eastern plains of New Mexico have the wind. What they don’t have is the transmission that would enable it to take advantage of this rich resource.

“New Mexico has a tremendous wind resource; it’s ranked 10th in the United States,” New Mexico’s former secretary of energy, minerals, and natural resources Jon Goldstein told TransmissionHub on March 13. “Estimates are that, at 80-meter hub height, the state’s wind resource is 492,000 MW,” which he said is 75 times the electricity used by the entire the state of New Mexico.

Would-be wind developers are positioning themselves to tap into that potential.

“We have roughly 15,000 MWs [of proposed wind projects] in our interconnection queue,” Public Service of New Mexico’s (PNM) lead director of engineering and operations Greg Miller told TransmissionHub on March 13. “Our system load is about 2,000 MW, so clearly those entities are looking at exporting energy from our system.”

PNM’s system as it exists today, however, is close to capacity. “There’s probably a little more opportunity to connect a couple more wind farms to our system but not from eastern New Mexico, which is the site of the most interest,” Miller said.

“Transmission has historically been a bottleneck,” acknowledged Goldstein, who now holds a position with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

New Mexico’s geographic position means the lines that may eventually be built will have to be of significant length. The Texas grid, which is mere miles from one of the state’s most wind-rich areas, is electrically isolated; the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has no synchronous connection to either the eastern or the western interconnection.

Several projects are underway that could unlock markets to the west, including Arizona and California. The SunZia transmission project is one of them.

“The SunZia transmission project emanates from what we call the sweet spot of the wind development area in east central New Mexico and heads south and west in Arizona,” terminating near Tucson Miller said. Estimated completion date for that project, according to TransmissionHub data, is 2016.

Other projects include lines proposed by the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA).

“We’ve entered into a lease agreement with Power Network New Mexico to develop a 200-mile-long, double-circuit 345-kV line that interconnects with the PNM system,” RETA’s executive director Jeremy Turner told TransmissionHub on March 14. The line would run from Guadalupe, NM to Rio Puerco, NM.

From the interconnection at PNM’s Rio Puerco substation, the existing PNM system would carry approximately 1,500 MW of renewable energy to the Four Corners area. That area is the site of a 2,040 MW, coal-fired power plant that serves approximately 300,000 households in New Mexico, Arizona, California and Texas, according to PNM data.

There are currently discussions about shutting down some of the five units at the Four Corners station to meet air quality regulations, Turner said. If that happens, it would free up capacity on existing transmission lines that extend to load centers farther south in Arizona and to California to the west.

The anticipated in-service date for the Power Network New Mexico line is 2Q15.

RETA has also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop the Lucky Corridor project, a 93-mi, 230-kV double-circuit line that will carry approximately 1,100 MW of energy between Gladstone, N.M. and Taos, N.M. Lucky Corridor is also anticipated to be in service in 2015.

The agency also has an MOU with Clean Energy Partners for the Centennial West project, an overhead HVDC line that would extend approximately 900 miles from eastern New Mexico to an area around the junction of Arizona, Nevada and California. The anticipated in-service date for the Centennial West project is 2018.

Yet another project is the 2,500-mile, 500-kV High Plains Express, which Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) has planned to carry power from Wyoming through Colorado and New Mexico into Arizona. That project, PNM’s Miller said, is currently on hold due to market conditions.

When eventually completed, these projects will make wind power development more viable by providing a gateway to markets outside of the Land of Enchantment. For as long as the constraints remain, however, AWEA’s Goldstein, PNM’s Miller, and RETA’s Turner agree the state’s wind potential will remain largely untapped.