Tres Amigas officials estimate ‘early fall’ for groundbreaking

After tentative plans for a July groundbreaking throughout 2012, Tres Amigas is still not ready to flip the switch.

The company, which plans to build a power substation connecting the country's three largest power grids, is still in the paperwork process —primarily lining up industrial revenue bonds with Curry County — as Monday marks the halfway point of July.

"I don't believe it's going to be July at this point," said Adrienne Smith, public information officer for Tres Amigas. "We have not pinned down a date at this point. There's been more paperwork, more things we (need to) work through before we pin down a date."

Smith said the groundbreaking estimate was now "early fall" from Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer David Stidham, and added that Chief Financial Officer Russ Stidolph would be at the Energy Expo Wednesday at the Clovis Civic Center to discuss the project.

When complete, the $1.5 billion electricity transmission superstation will act as a power hub for the Eastern, Western and Texas interconnections on 14,000 acres of Curry County land 11 miles northeast of Clovis. The superstation would give more ability for power producers to transfer their product across the country — primarily renewable energy, where states with the most potential for wind and solar energy don't have the population to use it.

The project is going to be done in three phases, with the first phase of about $485 million dedicated to building up 750 megawatt transfer capability in early 2015.

When complete, the superstation will have capacity of 5,000 megawatts — enough to power 1 million homes. Tres Amigas officials have estimated between 200 and 600 construction jobs will be created when the project takes off, and the company will start with around 50 permanent positions in early 2013.

Gene Hendrick, an economic development specialist with the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, was surprised that Tres Amigas decided to do the $485 million in industrial revenue bonds through Curry County. The county has not handled an IRB request before, Hendrick said, while the city has done the process for Southwest Cheese and other industries.

"Normally, you would assume (projects outside city limits) had to go through the county, but the city can go 15 miles and extend those processes," Hendrick said. "Tres Amigas falls within that limit."

Hendrick said the overall IRB process for Tres Amigas is the same as it was for the cheese plant, but there could have been some different steps required if it was a power producer and not simply a transmission agent.

Curry County Manager Lance Pyle said Tres Amigas has requested the county commission consider a resolution for the bonds at its July 24 meeting, and vote on whether to approve them at either the Aug. 21 regular meeting or a potential special meeting.

Given the timetable, Hendricks said he's not sure August will have a groundbreaking either, but he still has plenty more optimism than doubt about the project.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't bother me every time it was delayed. At this point, though, I'm fully confident … (despite the fact that) they're out in a bad economy trying to raise $500 million worth of funding."

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