New Mexico agencies seek FERC OK to speed up proposed renewable transmission line

Three New Mexico entities are asking FERC for a one-time waiver that would move a proposed transmission project to facilitate renewable energy to the front of the line.

Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA) and Power Network New Mexico asked FERC May 2 to grant permission for PNM to study a 200-mile, 345-kV transmission line proposed by RETA and Power Network New Mexico as a “first-ready” project instead of employing the utility’s existing “first-come, first-served” approach to its transmission service queue.

“This serial approach has presented a major impediment to renewable generation in New Mexico,” Jeff Mechenbier, PNM’s director of transmission/distribution planning and contracts said in the FERC filing (Docket ER12-1699).

“Based on the status of the queue, [the project’s] position in it, and the current rate at which PNM can process the queue, PNM estimates that it could take several years before the project could obtain the firm transmission service it needs,” the groups said in the filing. “Under that timing, the project would not be viable and most likely would not be developed, thus thwarting New Mexico policy to promote transmission infrastructure for renewable generation.”

New Mexico requires that, by 2015, 15% of the state’s power be supplied by renewable energy. The anticipated in-service date for the $350m Power Network New Mexico line is 2Q15.

If allowed to be studied and developed more quickly, the project will “enable the expeditious development of 1,500MW of renewable energy in New Mexico that is ready to be developed and currently does not have a viable transmission path to access western markets,” according to the filing.

The line would run from Guadalupe, NM to PNM’s Rio Puerco, NM substation. From that point, the existing PNM system would carry the 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.

Arizona Public Service (APS), which owns Units 1, 2 and 3 at the Four Corners plant, plans to shut those units down if FERC approves its pending application to buy Southern California Edison’s (SCE) 48% ownership interest in Units 4 and 5. APS currently owns a 15% stake in units 4 and 5. If that happens, it would free up approximately 560 MW of capacity on existing transmission lines that extend to load centers farther south in Arizona and to California to the west.

Fast-tracking the project “[R]epresents a practical near-term solution for addressing the lack of transmission needed for additional New Mexico renewable energy development,” Mechenbier said in a statement.

“If [FERC’s] response is favorable, then I would expect that we will begin engineering, environmental, and easement acquisition later this year,” RETA’s executive director Jeremy Turner told TransmissionHub on May 4.

PNM is a subsidiary of PNM Resources (NYSE:PNM), based in Albuquerque, N.M.

APS is a subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital Corp. (NYSE: PNW).

SCE is a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE:EIX).