Tres Amigas road dollars a good start

Clovis Media Inc.

irst comes the road, then comes the superconductor power station. While development work continues to finance and design the $1.2 billion Tres Amigas plant north of Clovis, the first step of the three-phase electrical project should begin later this year. Curry County will receive $350,000 in capital funds to pay for a road upgrade to haul equipment for the plant from Highway 209 to the site.

The capital investment money was approved last week by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. Those tax dollars will pay to convert the unstable, sand-based County Road 31 into a stable two-lane caliche surface, from 209 east about 3.5 miles to the site.

This investment will bring our tax dollars back home for sound, long-term economic reasons, and it will be the foundation on which the county could become one of America’s leading transmission transfer sites. In doing so, other energy-related business and industry could eventually spring up here.

Just to build the plant will require hiring 400 to 600 construction workers, Tres Amigas officials have said, and operating it will mean hiring several dozen permanent employees.

It will connect three main power grids — Western, Eastern and Texas — that cover the United States and provide a more stable source of power for customers in those grids. The plant equipment will handle moving electricity among the three grids to ease fluctuations and help adjust loads going east or west. The connectivity also could benefit the grids by opening them up to new energy suppliers and customers.

And out here in the flat and windy environs of eastern New Mexico and west Texas, alternate energy firms, particularly wind energy businesses, could benefit from being close to a transmission connection point of this magnitude.

David Stidham, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Tres Amigas, said he and many others are finalizing the rest of the transport route through Clovis. Equipment will be delivered via rail cars, including seven massive transformers weighing 500,000 pounds each and 450 voltage source converters that help direct power flow between the grids.

Equipment could be offloaded either from the Clovis Industrial Park rail siding or from inside the BNSF rail yard. The transformers would be lifted by crane onto an eight-axle, 64-tire flatbed that disperses the weight so city roads would be adequate, Stidham said.

The Prince overpass would not be used because of weight limits, but the Norris rail crossing could be to move loads north of the BNSF rail lines. Trucks either would come directly up Prince to 209 to CR 31, or up Norris to Llano Estacado and north on Prince.

Driving the route will take about three hours to move each transformer from the siding to the site, and they are planning to move one unit a week once the work begins, he said.

Road work could begin later this year and hauling equipment could start in early 2013, he estimated. The first phase of three to build the 5-gigawatt plant could be operational in 2015, he said.

First comes the road, then comes the superconductor power station.

Welcome to the future.