Tres Amigas seals land deal

By Kevin Wilson

Paperwork, then power.

Tres Amigas LLC and the State Land Office signed a lease agreement Thursday that clears another hurdle to create a superstation connecting all three of the nation’s power grids and making land between Clovis and the Texas border a future exchange point for billions of watts of power.

“A lot of agricultural people are going to benefit,” said outgoing Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons at ceremonies held in the Clovis Civic Center. “A lot of eastern New Mexico’s going to benefit.”

The 99-year lease for 14,400 acres of state trust land will eventually, according to a release from Lyons’ office, bring in $9.4 million for the state annually when the superstation is fully operational four to five years down the road.

There are three power grids in the country — the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. They are already connected by eight other entities, but their combined transmission ability is two gigawatts.

Tres Amigas CEO Phillip Harris said the superstation could start at five gigawatts and expand to 30 gigawatts.

A gigawatt is enough to power 200,000 average homes.

Lyons said Harris came to him three years ago and said he could connect the grids in either New Mexico or Texas, but wasn’t sure he had enough land in Texas.

The superstation could help prevent blackouts caused by current inefficiencies in power transfer. Some of the heaviest power consumers are states along the coasts, while some midwestern states have renewable energy (solar, wind) creation abilities beyond what they can use.

New Mexico, Harris said, has untapped wind energy potential because its current storage capacity limit is five gigawatts.

“You have 27 gigawatt potential in New Mexico,” Harris said. “Where’s it going?”

The power is converted from AC (alternating current) power on transmission lines to DC (direct current) once it gets to the station because “DC is ubiquitous,” Harris said, and the grids’ alternations aren’t synchronized. The power could either be stored or converted back to AC and moved onto another grid.

There’s no groundbreaking date, Harris said, because system impact studies are ongoing with a pair of power companies.

Harris estimates 15 to 30 permanent jobs at the station itself, but Lyons said there are untold jobs in construction and power producers that will want to locate near the substation.

A new power grid will require high-capacity lines, and it’s going to be difficult to tell a Mora County customer their power bill includes an extra 75 cents so power can move from Curry County to another state.

“I’m sure Pat’s going to solve that,” Harris said of Lyons, who was elected in November to serve on the Public Regulation Commission.

“The big question is who’s going to pay for the lines (customers or shareholders),” Lyons said. “It’s got to be a combination of both.”

County and city commissioner Bobby Sandoval was optimistic about the economic shot Tres Amigas could have.

“Until (people) see something like a like pole come up, until they see something they can touch (there are doubts),” Sandoval said. “This gets us so doggone close to getting something tangible up.”