Today I had the privilege of sneaking into, i.e. walking into with permission, a panel on current transmission projects in the Southwest held as part of the two-day “Energy in the Southwest” conference currently underway at the Santa Fe Hilton (price tag in the quadruple digits).
Jeremy Turner, Executive Director of the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA) spoke for the bulk to the 90-minute session. He covered a lot of ground (transmission joke) so I’ll just touch on a few main points:
- There’s a growing backlog of projects in the Southwest, with transmission projects becoming harder to complete due to environmental and financial hurdles.
- Need to start using existing infrastructure and minimizing new build-out in order to accomplish more with less resource investment. This requires long-term planning, not band-aiding issues, and cooperation rather than the competition currently inherent in the development of transmission projects.
- RETA has recently stepped into the role of transmission project developer for the first time and created a public-private partnership with a subsidiary of Goldman Sacks. This is an opportunity to get past the development bottleneck and actually start building.
- The SunZia Transmission Project that will bring renewable wind and solar power from Central New Mexico to the energy craving metropolitan areas of Arizona is making great progress and will hopefully be completed in a few years.
Turner also spoke about the Tres Amigas Power Station planned for Eastern New Mexico. The station is being designed to cost effectively transfer energy between the three main U.S. electricity grids (the Eastern grid, the Western grid and the Texas grid) to enable faster adoption of renewable energy and increased grid reliability.
“It’s exactly like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange was for cattle and commodities industries back in late 1800s,” said Turner. “All it did was draw everybody to the same place and create an opportunity to bring products to the market.”
Tres Amigas will have the ability to allow spot market trading and to stabilize the grid if there are blackouts by sending power where there needs to be.
“When the tsunami hit Japan what most people didn’t realize is because there’s two separate grids one grid operated just fine and the other didn’t,” said Turner. “They had no ability to send power between grids. A project of this nature [Tres Amigas] has the ability to change that – not only for us, but for the world.”