Powerful clean-energy line to crisscross NM - Albuquerque Journal

Powerful clean-energy line to crisscross NM

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

A $2 billion, 400-mile clean-energy transmission line planned for northern New Mexico became an official “public-private” project this week, significantly boosting its development prospects.

The state’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA) – a quasi-government agency established by the state Legislature in 2007 – announced a new joint development agreement on Thursday to work with private company Invenergy Transmission to build the project, dubbed the New Mexico North Path line. It’s targeted to begin operations in 2028, potentially carrying up to four gigawatts of renewable energy from Clayton to Farmington for consumption in New Mexico and western states, said RETA Executive Director Fernando Martinez.

“It’s a massive project that will free up landlocked, world-class renewable resources in Union County,” Martinez told the Journal. “It will bring huge economic and environmental benefits to the state.”

Invenergy Transmission, a subsidiary of global renewable energy developer Invenergy, expects to employ about 3,500 workers during construction, which is slated to begin in 2025, and then 100 permanent jobs once the project comes online.

At four GW of transmission capacity, the line could supply enough renewable electricity for 2 million homes.

The company expects to spend $2 billion directly on the project, but it could free up enough new clean energy development in Union County to generate another $5 billion in investments in wind and solar facilities that transmit electricity through North Path, said Will Consuegra, Invenergy director of transmission development.

Invenergy is planning its own two GW facility in Union County called the Spinneret Wind Energy Center, which is scheduled to begin construction in 2026 and come online in 2028. Spinneret could transmit its power through North Path, but a lot of other companies are also planning projects that could access the transmission line, Consuegra said.

“We haven’t finalized yet which projects the generation will come from,” Consuegra told the Journal. “We could get power from our own project, but many other companies are planning ambitious solar and wind development as well in northeast New Mexico.”

For generation projects to move forward, a lot more transmission is needed, making North Path a critical gateway to unlock renewable development in the northeastern region, where some of the state’s highest wind and solar potential is concentrated.

“That’s the biggest limitation – that New Mexico doesn’t have enough renewable energy transmission lines,” Consuegra said. “There’s an amazing amount of renewable potential in the northeast and no way to move it out of that area.”

Other major transmission projects underway in New Mexico are focused on exporting renewable power for sale in western states, such as the 550-mile SunZia line that will run from central New Mexico to Arizona.

In contrast, North Path is planned to supply both in- and out-of-state markets, potentially helping local utilities access more renewable electricity to meet state mandates for all generation to come from non-carbon sources by 2045.

“SunZia starts in New Mexico and ends in Arizona,” Martinez said. “This one starts in New Mexico and ends in New Mexico in the Four Corners area. That positions it to supply electricity both here and in other states.”

The partnership with RETA can help expedite planning and development, particularly when North Path applies for needed local, state and federal permits to construct and operate the line.

RETA is a quasi-state agency that, unlike other government entities, is authorized to forge public-private development partnerships. It’s managed by an independent board that includes one statewide elected official and others appointed by the executive and legislative branches.

When RETA meets with other local, state and federal agencies, it’s done on a “government-to-government” basis, Martinez said.

“The most-difficult piece of renewable energy transmission projects is getting permission to do it,” he said. “Private companies have the needed engineering, construction and financial capabilities, but they don’t have ability to get through the regulatory process in a timely manner. We can help navigate that process.”

In fact, under the public-private partnership agreement, RETA is now technically the owner of the North Path initiative, at least until it’s fully constructed and Invenergy takes over commercial operations, Martinez said. That creates significant tax benefits during planning and construction, such as exemption from gross receipts taxes and from some property and compensating taxes.

RETA also has eminent domain authority to acquire private property for public use if necessary, although that’s only considered a “last resort” if right-of-way negotiations with landowners reach an impasse.

“That’s only in extreme cases if we really reach a sticking point and we’ve tried everything else possible,” Martinez said. “We’re fundamentally focused on working directly with land owners and communities in existing corridors to put the lines where people want them to be.”

Since February 2021, when RETA signed an initial memorandum of understanding with Invenergy Transmission, the partners have held dozens of meetings to discuss the project with land owners, local community groups and tribal governments in the nine counties that North Path would traverse.

“We have an energetic outreach campaign to work with folks all along the transmission route,” Consuegra said. “We’ve created community working groups to provide people with opportunities to think about issues and give us their feedback.”

Once operating, the line could provide huge economic benefits for local communities, including tens of millions of dollars in annual tax payments to tribal, state and local governments, plus direct right-of-way payments to landowners.

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