The company that hopes to build a transmission line to move wind energy from Union County across the state to San Juan County told state legislators Monday that it will begin an environmental review process next year and, depending in part on permitting timelines, may be able to begin moving electricity at the end of the decade.
Invenergy, which already has developed a wind farm in Roosevelt County, now plans on constructing the North Path transmission line. That transmission line would be able to deliver 4,000 megawatts of clean energy.
Officials presented an update on that project to the interim Indian Affairs Committee during its meeting in Santa Fe, which includes plans to begin the National Environmental Policy Act review process.
The project will involve two converter stations on either end that will change the electricity from alternating current to direct current and then back to alternating current.
William Consuegra, director of transmission development at Invenergy, explained that it is more efficient to transport direct current and that there is less electricity lost when it is moved as direct current.
But that also has some drawbacks. For example, if a wind project was built along the route, it would not be able to tap into the North Path lines unless another converter station was built.
The converter stations will also boost the economic impact that the transmission line will bring to New Mexico, including creating between 50 to 60 full-time jobs at each station. Those jobs will be in addition to the temporary construction jobs the project will create as well as other full-time operations and maintenance jobs.
Mayane Barudin, the senior manager for transmission community partnerships at Invenergy, went over various other opportunities for job creation related to the project. Those include surveying and environmental monitoring.
She said Invenergy would like to set up internship programs for operations and maintenance within the Native American communities.
Barudin said the company hopes to work with the tribes to set up cultural monitoring practices and she said that Invenergy would like to provide economic support and cost recovery for the tribes in setting up those programs.
In San Juan County, the transmission line would connect with other transmission lines that have traditionally moved electricity from the Four Corners Power Plant to areas in New Mexico and Arizona.
The coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant is expected to close in 2031 and Consuegra said the utilities that currently use it will have the opportunity to buy wind power that would be transported on the North Path line. That could help utilities in New Mexico meet the requirements of the Energy Transition Act.
The Public Service Company of New Mexico, which is currently a partial owner of the Four Corners Power Plant and has been investigating opportunities to replace the power that it currently receives from the coal-fired plant, would be the main potential New Mexico beneficiary of the project.
Consuegra said that one of the advantages the North Path line would bring to New Mexico is the ability to tap into wind resources in Union County that currently remain undeveloped due to a lack of transmission.
He said Union County is the area with the most potential for wind energy development in the state.
“There’s over an estimated 20,000 plus megawatts of power that can be harvested in the Union County area,” Consuegra said. “Unfortunately, none of it is being harvested right now, because there are no transmission lines.”
Consuegra said the North Path line is a $2 billion project that will lead to additional wind generation projects, all of which will have an economic benefit to New Mexico.
Invenergy’s North Path line could also benefit San Juan County, which has traditionally relied on fossil fuels as an economic base. Consuegra said Invenergy also hopes to keep San Juan County’s history of being an energy hub alive but with renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.
And economic impacts will also be seen in all nine counties that the transmission line will pass through. Those include payments to tribal, state and local governments as well as private landowners.
But there is still a long road ahead before the North Path transmission line can become a reality. In addition to the NEPA analysis, there are various state and local permitting processes that Invenergy must go through.
Consuegra said Invenergy has worked with the state Renewable Energy Transmission Authority to determine a route and is now hoping to get approval from landowners including Pueblos and Navajo Nation.
This story was written by Hannah Grover and has been republished here from NM Political Report.