By Bill Diven
The heavy-duty pipe and power lines already lacing Placitas may gain a new neighbor as renewable energy seeks a transmission route across northern New Mexico.
While Invenergy Transmission has published a map of the broad corridor it plans to study, there are limited options to bring its New Mexico North Path project from the east side of the Sandia Mountains to the Rio Grande Valley. The same squeeze through northern Placitas already accommodates five high-pressure pipelines and three towering transmission lines in separate corridors barely a mile apart.
“It’s in the planning stages, but we’re going to watch it,” said Sandy Johnson, president of the Las Placitas Association. “If it does go through the existing corridor, we’ll be sure to voice our opinion on how the landscape changes, if it changes.
“We’ll work so it infringes less on the people here if possible.”
The LPA has a history of involvement with land-use issues and the Bureau of Land Management, which controls some of the potential right-of-way. The three existing transmission lines cross the 3,217-acre parcel known as the Buffalo Tract entering through lightly populate areas north of Camino de la Rosa Costilla.
Invenergy’s use of BLM land and tribal lands to the west would trigger a public process for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Invenergy Transmission is committed to following best practices for infrastructure siting which includes paralleling existing infrastructure where possible,” Will Consuegra, Invenergy director of transmission development, said in a written statement responding to questions from the Signpost. “North Path has conducted early and on-going engagement with the Navajo Nation and Pueblo communities to seek input on areas suitable for the project and will continue these important public outreach activities and conversations through the federal permitting process, which is expected to be initiated later in 2023.”
Citing the extensive potential for wind and solar power generation in the northeast corner of New Mexico, Invenergy proposes a 400-mile transmission line to carry the output from near Clayton in Union County to the Four Corners area near Farmington. The company also touts 3,500 well-paying construction jobs leading to millions in annual tax payments to state, local and tribal governments and help in reaching the state goal of 50 percent of statewide energy use being from renewable sources.
The North Path study area resembles a giant smile connecting the northern state corners while dipping south almost to the Sandoval-Bernalillo county line but not quite reaching Torrance County. The study area is about 20 miles wide entering Sandoval County from the east with two routes identified as potential corridors merging into one exiting Santa Fe County north of Golden.
Of the three existing transmission lines in a potential path through Placitas, the tallest involves steel towers with the other two on wooden poles. After crossing the Buffalo Tract, the lines pass south of Algodones and onto Santa Ana Pueblo to cross the Rio Grande.
The map on the North Path website, however, also shows a potential new route diverging to the northwest from Placitas and through San Felipe Pueblo on its way west.
The steel transmission structures shown on the North Path website would be from 130-175 feet tall with a center frame perched on a concrete pedestal and guyed with multiple cables to the four corners within a footprint of 140-by-140 feet. On average the towers would be 1,500 feet apart, slightly more than the four-footed steel towers crossing the Buffalo Tract.
In service, the company said the line could carry four gigawatts (4GW) of energy, the equivalent of powering two million homes.
The $2 billion project advanced quietly for about two years identifying energy sources, end users and the routing study area, according to the North Path website (NewMexicoNorthPath.com). The public announcement in January came after Invenergy signed a joint-development agreement with the state Renewable Energy Transmission Authority.
“New Mexico North Path will help to unlock a share of what RETA has estimated is $11 billion in untapped renewable energy investment potential in the state,” according to the January announcement.
Stitching together an actual route involves an untold number of landowners for tower sites. Under their public-private partnership, RETA, created by the Legislature and pressed by Gov. Bill Richardson in 2007, has eminent-domain power and could condemn land for North Path leaving it to a court to determine payment.
Invenergy calls land condemnation an action of last resort.
The project already is slightly behind its published timeline of having the preferred routed identified last year. That timeline shows permitting and land acquisition wrapping up in 2025 with construction complete in 2028.
RETA also has played a transmission role in the SunZia project intended to carry energy 550 miles to Arizona from east-central New Mexico and the largest wind farm in the country. Approved in 2015 and anticipating operations in 2025, the company faced among other routing issues wanting to cross a portion of White Sands Missile Range.
Other RETA involvements for exporting renewable energy to various markets from the High Lonesome Mesa wind farm operating in Torrance County, the 155-mile Western Spirit line connecting to a PNM substation near Albuquerque and the planned 115-mile Mora Line Project.