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Gov. vetoes $200,000 for transmission agency

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The future of New Mexico’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority is uncertain following Gov. Susana Martinez’s decision this spring to veto $200,000 that the Legislature approved this year for RETA.

The agency was created in 2007 under former Gov. Bill Richardson as an independent, quasi-governmental entity with bonding authority to help finance, build and operate renewable energy transmission lines. The entity is working with private developers on a number renewable transmission projects in New Mexico.

But it’s supposed to become self-financed over time, and the governor decided this year to end state support after previously approving $600,000 for the agency.

“RETA has been well funded and was supposed to be self-sustaining long before now,” said Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan in an email to the Journal. “The governor supported generous funding of this entity for the last two years, with $250,000 in FY 2014 and $350,000 in FY 2015…Since the agency has not been able to use these funds to become self-sustaining, the provision was vetoed in this year’s budget.”

RETA Executive Director Jeremy Turner said his agency has enough funds to continue through the fall, but it could be forced to close after that without alternative resources.

“We’re reaching out to the private sector and others at the federal level,” Turner said. “The RETA board has not yet made a decision as to whether we would cease operations or as to the timing of such a decision.”

RETA is a partner in the 200-mile Western Spirit Clean Line to carry electricity from Central New Mexico to western states through the Four Corners transmission hub. That project, backed by ZBI Ventures and the multinational energy investment firm National Grid, is scheduled to be up and running by 2018.

RETA is also actively supporting the 515-mile SunZia line from Central New Mexico to Arizona, and the Lucky Corridor project, which will transport electricity from solar and wind farms in northern New Mexico to the Four Corners.

The agency operated from 2010-2012 without state funding after receiving $550,000 in service fees for managing $50 million in bonding that helped upgrade transmission infrastructure for the High Lonesome Mesa Wind Farm in Torrance County. But new bonding agreements and other service-fee arrangements are uncertain, said RETA board Chairman Robert Busch.

“We were able to do that in the past, but there’s no assurance we can do it again in the near future,” Busch said. “We can’t operate without new funds, so at some point we may have to shut down.”

Martinez’s veto drew criticism from some renewable developers and from Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who strongly supports clean energy projects at the federal level.

“It was a penny-wise and pound-foolish thing to do,” Heinrich told the Journal. “It puts up a ‘not open for business’ sign in New Mexico. We have projects here with huge opportunities to create jobs, so I have a very difficult time understanding this.”