Business feature: Official says Tres Amigas ‘alive and well’

Courtesy illustration: Tres Amigas, LLC The design overview of the proposed Tres Amigas superstation project, first introduced in 2009, shows the three power grids across the U.S. that Tres Amigas plans to unite north of Clovis.

Courtesy illustration: Tres Amigas, LLC
The design overview of the proposed Tres Amigas superstation project, first introduced in 2009, shows the three power grids across the U.S. that Tres Amigas plans to unite north of Clovis.

By Brooke Finch
Staff Writer
bfinch@cnjonline.com

October marked seven years since the Tres Amigas company first announced its plan to create an electrical superstation connecting three U.S. power grids, with Clovis at the center.

That superstation still has a ways to go, but is “alive and well,” according to Tres Amigas Chief Financial Officer Russell Stidolph.
Although the company three years ago announced a 2016 completion date, Stidolph now expects the finished project to emerge in another three to five years.

Uniting the Eastern Interconnection, Western Interconnection and Texas Interconnection (also known as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) at a site in Clovis would allow renewable energy generators to reach multiple markets through a more reliable transfer of green power from region to region, according to Tres Amigas officials.

Stidolph said this goal remains the same, but the company’s focus has changed — along with its budget.

“We’re moving forward under that business model,” Stidolph said. “We had very lofty ambitions in terms of project size, and because the project was going to be very large, it was also going to be very expensive.”

Stidolph said the company “ran into some difficulties” trying to finance the proposed $1.6 billion project because of its size, cost and complexities.

One of these difficulties arose in July 2015, when Southwestern Public Service (a subsidiary of Xcel Energy), dropped out of the interconnection request with Tres Amigas. SPS was Tres Amigas’ access to the eastern grid.

“We weren’t ready to move forward with the interconnection because the project wasn’t ready,” Stidolph said, “so we mutually agreed to, basically, put our pencils down … What happened a year ago was more of a process thing than a lack of interest thing, and it was the right thing to do for all the parties involved.”

Stidolph said Tres Amigas plans to refile the interconnection request with SPS within the next year.

Tres Amigas previously planned for a 750-megawatt connection between the eastern and western grids, plus 1,500 megawatts with the Texas grid.

But the company’s focus for now, Stidolph said, is connecting 200 to 500 megawatts between the East and West, with Texas to be implemented later.

“We are still interested in Texas,” Stidolph said, “but that is not a priority right now. Over time, if that becomes an opportunity, we would love to get that interconnection done, but that is a long-term goal.”

By downsizing, the original $1.6 billion budget has been significantly cut to an estimated $500 million, Stidolph said.

He expects the project to create 50 to 75 construction jobs and eight to 10 permanent jobs at the project site.

The latest step for Tres Amigas was partnering with Pattern Energy to form Western Interconnect LLC for the development of the Western Interconnect transmission line.

The 35-mile, single circuit 345-kilovolt transmission line will connect Public Service Company of New Mexico’s Blackwater substation to a 345-kilovolt switching station northeast of Clovis.

Pattern Energy Spokesperson Matt Dallas said the Western Interconnect line, expected to become operational on Jan. 1, will allow many projects — including Tres Amigas — to have power.

More recently, Western Interconnect launched an open season for service rights last month, inviting interested parties to submit binding Transmission Service Requests on its line through Nov. 11.

Dallas called the Western Interconnect line “one of the pieces of that puzzle” for Tres Amigas, while Clovis Industrial Development Corp. Executive Director Chase Gentry said the line “should help Tres Amigas move forward.”