New Mexico Faces Transmission Bottleneck
Dec 2, 2009
An electricity transmission report submitted to a New Mexico interim legislative committee said the state has the potential to produce staggering amounts of renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy—but doesn’t have nearly enough transmission capacity to accommodate it.
The report, requested by State Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) earlier this year, was presented by the state’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority. The report outlines existing transmission lines, the obstacles to adding new lines and the top locations for potential wind, solar and geothermal energy production.
Renewable energy production and transmission are primary components of the coming Smart Grid that is being created to produce clean, secure and reliable energy well into the future. The Obama administration also has made renewable energy production a top priority in its national energy policy and in its Recovery Act stimulus program. Researchers and manufacturers are working at a feverish pace to develop and implement the Smart Grid technologies needed to reach those goals.
“The issue is transmission. If we don’t have any more transmission, there will be no more renewable energy projects in the state of New Mexico and that is critical for our future,” State Rep. Jose Campos (D-Santa Rosa) was quoted as saying in an Associated Press article. He added that New Mexico will simply lose its opportunity if significant steps aren’t taken within the next three to four years.
Greg Miller, the lead director of engineering and operations for the state’s biggest utility, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, underscored Campos’ assessment.
“The existing transmission systems are fully utilized. 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,” Miller said.
It’s not an unfamiliar story. New Mexico’s neighbor to the southeast, Texas, also is wrestling with how to come up with adequate transmission capacity to take electricity produced in the wind-rich western part of the state to its rapidly growing population centers in the east.
New Mexico is among several states that now require utilities to provide set percentages of electricity from renewables. Now, New Mexico utilities are required to provide six percent of their power output from renewable sources, and that requirement will be hiked to 20% by 2020.
Sen. Keller called the report an important first step, but commented that a lot more needs to be done to define the new transmission corridors that will carry power from the state’s rural areas to its major cities.
Quick Take: The need to develop renewable energy is unquestionable. We can only encourage the utilities, states, regulators and other stakeholders involved in its development to focus as much attention on transmission, as many have already done. Yes, building transmission capacity is time-consuming, challenging and expensive, but all the Smart Grid technologies devoted to renewable energy development won’t be worth much if the end product can’t be delivered.