A Nov. 17 recommended decision by Hearing Examiner Carolyn Glick calls for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to grant Southwestern Public Service (SPS) a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CCN) to build, operate, and maintain a 345-kV transmission line and associated facilities in Lea County, N.M., that would extend about 36 miles from the New Mexico/Texas state line to SPS’ Hobbs generating substation.
As noted in the recommended decision, SPS in June filed an application requesting that the commission:
- Issue the CCN authorizing SPS to build, operate, and maintain the line and associated facilities
- Approve SPS’ proposed location for the line and associated facilities
- Determine that a minimum 150-foot right of way (ROW) width is necessary for the proposed line
- Authorize SPS to accrue an allowance for funds used during construction of the proposed line
Further describing the project, Glick noted that the proposed project is the New Mexico component of the larger Tuco-Yoakum-Hobbs Project (TYH Project) that was identified by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) to address reliability needs in the New Mexico/west Texas area; the proposed project is the final segment of the TYH Project.
The proposed transmission line would extend southwest from the New Mexico/Texas state line in Lea County to the Hobbs generating substation, located 10 miles west of Hobbs. At the existing Hobbs generating station, a new 345-kV substation would be added with three terminal breaker and a half configuration, with termination points for a 560 MVA, 345/230-kV autotransformer, and two 345-kV lines and a shunt reactor, Glick added.
SPS estimates an in-service date of June 1, 2020, she said, adding that preliminary line design began in June 2015 and is ongoing. If the proposed project is approved, SPS expects construction to begin in mid-2018, Glick said.
After considering alternatives, the SPP found that the proposed line is necessary to address and avoid potential loading and voltage violations due to insufficient power supply to meet increased load. Glick added that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Texas has approved the other two segments of the larger project.
The two Texas segments are the Tuco-Yoakum 345-kV segment, which the PUC approved in September, and the Yoakum-State Line 345-kV segment, which the PUC approved in March 2016. The Tuco-Yoakum segment will extend 105.5 miles, from the Tuco substation to the Yoakum substation, while the Yoakum-State Line segment will extend about 27 miles, from the Yoakum County substation in Texas to the New Mexico state line, Glick added.
SPS does not seek ratemaking treatment of the proposed project in this case, but estimates a total project cost of $51.5m. Glick also said that SPS projects that it would seek to recover from New Mexico ratepayers about 2% of the total cost, or $1.02m.
The project cost would be allocated among SPP members and then SPS would assign its allocated portion among its three jurisdictions: FERC, New Mexico, and Texas. SPS estimates that 11.5% of the total cost would be allocated to SPS and 18% of the cost allocated to SPS would be assigned to its New Mexico jurisdiction, Glick said.
Regulatory staff recommends granting all requested approvals with three conditions that SPS does not oppose, Glick said, adding that she also recommends granting all requested approvals subject to staff’s conditions.
Those conditions call for SPS to file:
- Copies of all construction and required environmental permits received for the proposed project within two weeks of receipt of the final permit
- The actual costs of the proposed project in the docket as soon as they become available
- A notice of the date that the project is placed into service
Glick added that while SPS does not object to those conditions, it suggests that the two-week requirement for filing a permit be changed to 30 days. Staff said that SPS has accepted the two-week requirement in other cases, but does not object to 30 days, Glick said.
A staff witness testified that SPS “has presented ample evidence in its direct and supplemental testimonies demonstrating the need for this project to provide service for additional loads and to increase reliability in the affected area,” Glick said.
Discussing SPS’ request for location approval, she noted that the proposed line would cross about 7.5 miles of land owned by the State of New Mexico, and about 28.5 miles of privately owned land. SPS is required to obtain an ROW from the state and easements from private landowners.
As of the date of a Nov. 2 public hearing, SPS had acquired 73% of the privately owned easements based on total mileage, and had acquired 93% of the privately owned easements based on ownership. SPS was still negotiating with the private landowner who has the lease with NextEra Energy Resources, but expected to conclude negotiations in the near future, Glick added.
SPS retained POWER Engineers to prepare an environmental assessment (EA), which found that the line would have minimal impact on land uses due to the location of the line within or parallel to existing compatible ROWs, property lines, or other natural features. Only four habitable structures are within 500 feet of the ROW centerline, Glick added, noting that the route would primarily cross pasture and range lands. However, since the ROW would not be fenced, there would be no significant long-term displacement of farming or grazing.
Glick also noted that to avoid existing and future oil and gas production facilities, SPS and POWER applied a set-back buffer of 200 feet from the route centerline where feasible. Furthermore, no parks and recreation areas are impacted by the proposed project.
Glick also said that the EA found that the line would not cross any known or designated critical habitats for federally or state-listed plant and wildlife species, and that the line would have only minimal impacts on other biological resources within the study area. Construction of the route is not anticipated to impact any state or federally designated threatened or endangered plant or wildlife species, she said.
Among other things, Glick said that the proposed project is required by the public convenience and necessity and will not result in unnecessary duplication or economic waste. She further noted that the location of the proposed line will not unduly impair important environmental values.