ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A Colorado utility has reached out to leaders in northern New Mexico about the possibility of running an electric transmission line from a substation north of Alamosa, Colo., to a site somewhere west of Taos.
But the Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/16hMu0H ) that the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s study area for the project overlies the newly designated Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, alarming those still celebrating its hard-won status.
Tri-State spokeswoman Sarah Carlisle says no route has been identified and the association is in the earlier stages of its study.
President Barack Obama created the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument by proclamation on March 25. The document, however, does not preclude new transmission lines.
The monument takes in 242,500 acres of public land from Taos north to the Colorado state line. It includes the 800-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge, the sweeping, sagebrush-studded plains of the Taos Plateau, volcanic cones topping 10,000 feet and remnants of human activity since prehistoric times.
Protection of the area was sought for years by a coalition of conservationists, business owners, sportsmen, land grant heirs and ranchers, and the proclamation was hailed as a boon to the tourism-dependent local economy. One study pegged the annual economic impact at $15 million and said 279 jobs could be created.
Taos Council member Andrew Gonzales said that even if the proposed line were sited along U.S. 285 on the monument’s western side, it would be an eyesore. Tri-State says it’s too early to talk about any specific route. Gonzales said he anticipates “huge resistance” to the proposal from governing bodies and the general public.
Tri-State is a wholesale power supplier to 44 electric cooperatives — including the Taos-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative — in Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Carlisle said the utility has long wanted to increase the reliability of service in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, which has a single source of power from the north and experienced major outages in 1998, 2002 and 2003. The company says the demand for power in the valley, especially from agricultural users, is growing.
Running a new 230-kilovolt transmission line from a substation north of Alamosa to connect with an existing 345-kilovolt line near Taos would bolster service in the San Luis Valley, increase “the general robustness of the electrical grid” in Colorado and New Mexico and provide a pathway for potential renewable energy development, the spokeswoman said.
A new substation would be built where the lines would link up near Taos, according to Carlisle, accounting for about one-fourth of the estimated $120 million project cost.
While the proclamation signed by Obama does not specifically preclude new transmission lines in the monument, they would have to be “consistent with the care and management” of the monument’s resources, a decision that would rest with the Bureau of Land Management.
“The national monument is an additional screen that we would use” in weighing whether to authorize the line, said Sam DesGeorges, field manager for the BLM’s Taos field office.
“It is still a discretionary action, and by policy, our preference would be to avoid monument land,” DesGeorges said.
There would be years of hurdles for Tri-State after it identified a proposed route, including local, state and federal permitting in the two states and environmental reviews.
A projected timeline has construction beginning in 2019 and the line in service a couple of years after that.