NM report says transmission key to renewable power

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2009 10:11 AM

New Mexico has huge potential to produce electricity from renewable sources but a small window to develop transmission lines to deliver that power to customers, a lawmaker said Tuesday after listening to a report on the issue.

The state Renewable Energy Transmission Authority presented its first statewide transmission report to an interim legislative committee. It covers everything from existing transmission lines, barriers to building additional lines and hot spots for electricity generation using wind, solar radiation and geothermal sources.

"The issue is transmission. If we don't have any more transmission, there will be no more renewable projects in the state of New Mexico and that is critical for our future. It's a multibillion-dollar opportunity," said Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa.

The state will lose out to other states if it doesn't do something in the next three to four years, he said.

Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Kansas, North Dakota and South Dakota already have established transmission authorities, and Colorado has prepared a renewable energy transmission report, said Jeremy Turner, RETA executive director. Neighboring Texas has been working for the last few years to identify its clean and renewable energy zones.

Greg Miller, the lead director of engineering and operations for Public Service Co. of New Mexico, a subsidiary of PNM Resources Inc. and the state's largest utility, said RETA's report goes a long way to spell out some of the barriers utilities and others have when it comes to transmission.

Those include cumbersome federal procedures for connecting to the grid and a general lack of transmission lines for exporting electricity from New Mexico, he said.

"The existing transmission systems are fully utilized," Miller said. "They were built for a different purpose, not for adding on renewable generation on top of the transport of the energy that's already in play."

New Mexico and other states have developed standards that require utilities to provide to their customers a specific amount of electricity that is generated by renewable sources. Currently, the state's renewable portfolio standard calls for 6 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources. That will increase to 20 percent by 2020.

While conservation, more efficient devices and an economic downturn have reduced demand over the past year, experts say the market for electricity _ specifically that produced from renewable sources _ will grow as populations expand and utilities race to meet the standards.

PNM officials said there's more than 10,000 megawatts of potential renewable energy electricity generation in the queue in New Mexico, far more than what PNM and other utilities would need to meet state standards. If power purchase agreements were signed and generation projects were developed, that power could be exported to meet needs in California and other states.

Sen. Tim Keller, the Albuquerque Democrat who requested the report earlier this year, said the document is an important first step as New Mexico and the rest of the country determine how to best develop and transmit electricity generated from renewable sources.

Despite the valuable maps in the report, Keller and RETA officials said much needs to be done to specifically identify transmission corridors that can export renewable power from New Mexico's rural areas to its population centers and beyond.

"We clearly have some additional work to do in identifying the corridors, but at the end of the day our goal is to come up with a useful document for the state and the citizens and for developers," Turner said.