Curry County hub would link nation’s three electric grids

CNJ illustration: Rick White

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Economic development specialist Gene Hendrick believes an electric power super station that looks like it may be coming to Curry County was destined for the area — all the pieces just had to come together to make it happen.

“Truth be known, was maybe it was ours to lose from the beginning,” Hendrick, a consultant for the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, said Tuesday. “There’s a reason why this area was sort of a natural for it.”

The Tres Amigas Super Station would be a hub connecting the nation’s three power grid transmissions. All that power would be routed through Curry County.

Tuesday, Gov. Bill Richardson lauded the project as a sign of New Mexico’s progressive approach to renewable energy.

“New Mexico leads the way in green and renewable energy development,” Richardson said in a press release.

“But we need the ability to send energy produced in New Mexico to surrounding states. Tres Amigas will break that barrier, creating a larger market for our energy.”

Richardson said the project could mean billions of dollars being spent locally by the company.

He also said it would bring countless construction jobs to Curry County and eastern New Mexico.

Upon completion, at least 50 permanent jobs would be created, officials said.

Hendrick said he was approached months ago by State Rep. Anna Crook, R-Curry County, and Rep. Janice Arnold Jones, R-Albuquerque, who asked him why Curry County wasn’t vying for the project.

Developers were eyeing Texas for the hub’s location, Hendrick said. But the availability of 14,000 acres of state-owned land in northern Curry County made selling the project to developers easy, he said.

When he looked into it, Hendrick said he discovered an existing AC/DC converter station located on Curry Road Three. That and ongoing efforts to bring in renewable energy projects made Curry County a perfect fit, he said.

Hendrick said he lobbied State Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons to make public trust land — located northeast of Clovis, south of Curry Road 19 and west of N.M. 108 — available and the project clicked.

Richardson is vowing continued support for the project and plans to continue assisting developers to ensure it is a success, according to a statement from his office.

Tres Amigas LLC has been given two years to evaluate the land, conduct soil testing, archeological surveys, study wildlife impact and pursue purchase and sales agreements, Lyons said.

Hendrick said the power station is not guaranteed and could run into difficulties if during the two-year period there are objections to the station’s construction or an environmental issue is uncovered.

“They lease the land for two years to try and get any possible protests and stuff out of the way,” he said.

“I assured them that we want it, but I’m only one person… and there may be objections.”

If the power station is a success, by 2014 it would move renewable energy unobstructed through the South-central United States, 14 Western states, Alberta and British Columbia, and the northern tip of Baja California, Mexico.

According to a Tres Amigas publication, the project will create the nation’s first renewable energy trading hub using the latest power grid technologies, including DC superconductor power cables, HVDC voltage source converters and energy storage systems.

It will be a ground-breaking endeavor, leaders said, and change the flow of power for the nation.

“The United States is embarking on an aggressive renewable energy plan, yet we lack a national transmission backbone to support our vision,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman stated in a press release.

“By tying the nation’s three power grids together, the Tres Amigas station will catalyze the adoption of renewable power while at the same time increasing the reliability of our electricity network, which is fundamental to the expansion of the U.S. economy.”

Tres Amigas was conceived by Phil Harris, the former CEO of PJM Interconnection, which serves 14 states and is the world’s largest control area with over 240,000 megawatts of power under management, the release said.