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Western power network studied:

Transmission lines could span four states to allow better sharing of energy

Oct 11, 2007 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Jack King

At least 10 private and governmental entities are studying the possibility of major new transmission lines that would connect Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona in what could be a blueprint for regional energy interconnection lines.

Called the High Plains Express, the project calls for the eventual construction of two parallel power transmission lines that would carry 2,000 megawatts to 3,000 megawatts, said Jerry Vaninetti, vice president of Western projects for Trans-Elect Development Corp. of Littleton, Colo., an independent transmission developer that is one project participant.

No route has been selected, but the lines could run from eastern Wyoming through eastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico to southern New Mexico, then west to the Phoenix area, he said.

The state Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources and Public Service Company of New Mexico also are participants in the project.

Other participants are Xcel Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Platte River Power Authority, the Salt River Project, the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority and the Western Area Power Administration, a federal power administrator for the Western states.

A spokeswoman for Xcel said each participant is providing either money or resources for the study.

The first phase of the project is a feasibility study that will explore the technical, economic and environmental transmission alternatives for the project. The study should be completed late this year and be available in written form the first quarter of 2008, Vaninetti said.

"As I understand it, it's basically a study at this point, with many different parties interested in making it a reality," said PNM spokesman Jeff Buell.

Even if completed in the form currently under study, the transmission lines wouldn't go on line until at least 2017, and the exact right of way is a long way from being chosen, Vaninetti said.

It's also possible that the project will be completed piecemeal, as several transmission line projects in the four states along the proposed route are completed, then linked together, he said. If completed, the transmission lines would carry a mix of traditional and renewable energy, he added. Greg Miller, PNM's director of transmission operations, said the High Plains Express could be an important project. "At 800 to 1,000 miles long, a line like this hasn't been built in 25 years," he said. He added that a new transmission line could solve a number of problems. "It could relieve congestion. There are growing loads on all Western utilities and we need to move generated power to those loads. Also, all the states in the West are developing renewable energy portfolio standards (for utilities). The problem is that currently where there's a potential to develop that power there aren't a lot of transmission lines," Miller said.

"We need more energy brought into New Mexico. We're using up the generation capacity we have and a more robust transmission system would allow us access to generated power, wherever it is," he said.

New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks said more transmission capacity could be good for New Mexico, but the High Plains Express also might create problems that should be considered in advance.

"Several of the entities involved are retail jurisdiction utilities. They're going to be telling us they need more transmission to serve their retail customers and they need to get their costs recovered through rates for this project. On the other hand, all these entities also are very active in wholesale marketing, and the transmission developer obviously is a wholesale operator," he said.

"Anytime in the utility business when you start mixing retail and wholesale, a lot of red flags should go up. We're going to have to be very careful that, if these plans go ahead, retail rate payers don't wind up subsidizing the wholesale power marketing ambitions of the utilities and the other power producers," he said. High Plains Express

WHAT: Planned 800-1,000 miles of new transmission lines

WHO: At least 10 utility and governmental entities studying idea WHEN: Not expected to be operational until 2017 at earliest

WHERE: Across eastern Wyoming, Colorado and N.M. before heading from southern N.M. west to Arizona ROUTE: No specific path has been selected yet

WHY: To create additional electric capacity to serve growing states

Updated: 2016/06/30

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