Officials discuss significance of Tres Amigas power project

Kevin Wilson

Tres Amigas officials are confident that eastern New Mexico knows the possibilities that could arise from combining the nation’s three power grids just outside of Clovis.

They’re just hoping over the next few years, they can make the same connections with Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

“I don’t think the state realizes the significance of Tres Amigas and what it’s going to do to New Mexico,” said Frank Barbera, director of reliability assurance for Tres Amigas.

During a legislative luncheon Thursday at the Clovis Civic Center, Barbera said the power superstation could be fully operational toward the end of 2014.

The environmental studies are finished, Barbera said, with approval contingent on the final design that’s being put together right now.

According to Barbera:

• Heavy equipment, including more than 200 tons of power transformers, should arrive in 2013.

• Before 2014, Tres Amigas would be installed without being turned on.

• A six-month stretch in 2014 would be used as a probationary period for Tres Amigas.

“That is the schedule we are working for right now,” Barbera said.

Other details are in the air, including the number of jobs coming to the area and what power producers could be transmitting energy to Tres Amigas for nationwide distribution.

Construction could bring anywhere from 200 to 600 jobs, Barbera said, noting that numerous factors made the range so large. Permanent jobs will be around 50 operators, he said.

When asked about the SunZia transmission project — which covers southern Arizona and New Mexico with an emphasis on renewable energy — Barbera said there are talks, but no formal agreements.

Eastern New Mexico is making heavy investments in wind energy, but Barbera said there should also be an emphasis on the area’s solar energy potential as well.

“The prices are stable (compared to fossil fuels),” Barbera said, “and they’re also going down.”

During early adoption of renewable energy, Barbera said utilities and customers have shown willingness to pay a premium, provided the power supply is reliable.

Tres Amigas is aiming for a groundbreaking ceremony in the second quarter of 2012.

Thursday’s event, also coinciding with the Clovis Rotary Club weekly meeting, was billed as a legislative luncheon by the Clovis Industrial Development Corp. Only Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, was able to attend.

Other legislators had prior commitments, and many had spoken during a similar function Wednesday held by the Eastern Plains Council of Governments.

Crook said the revenue picture — an estimated $122 million surplus heading into the 2012 session — looks nice, but there are serious needs.

“Our road fund is in a world of hurt,” said Crook. “Our streets badly need dollars.”