PNM gets zone change for new site

........................................................................................................................................................................................

A new heavy industrial zone has been established on the mesa west of Belen thanks to a unanimous vote by county commissioners.

At their Sept. 19 meeting, commissioners granted PNM's request to rezone 50 acres from outland district to I-3, heavy industrial, for a new gas-powered, 80 megawatt power station.

According to PNM officials, the plant will be built in stages, starting at 40 megawatts and expanding to 80, and will only be run during peak load times.

Construction for the first phase of the $60-million plant is expected to begin in 2014, with the facility going into service in 2016. PNM did not indicate when the second 40 megawatt generator would be built.

The site for what's being called La Luz Energy Center is about two miles south of the intersection of Camino del Llano and Harrison Road. PNM officials said the site was chosen after an evaluation of 30 proposals.

Laurie Moye, PNM's coordinator for regulatory projects and public participation, said the company will have to run transmission lines from the new plant to the PNM station several 100 feet away in order to get the power onto the grid. She said the power generated would stay in New Mexico.

While everyone involved in the discussion about the zone change agreed that a stable power grid was a positive thing, many didn't like the location of the plant, and expressed concerns over the amount of water it would ultimately draw from the aquifer.

Larry Fuller, a west mesa resident who was asked to be a liaison between the community and PNM, said the company has expressed a desire to be part of the community, but he hasn't "bought in hook, line and sinker."

Fuller said he would like to see the pavement on the access road to the plant, Harrison Road, completed before construction begins. He asked the commission to hold PNM to its promise to do dust control and paving on the road.

On the matter of water, Fuller said residents in the area were afraid their wells would be sucked dry by PNM's wells.

"Over 40 years, their study shows the water level will drop about 18 inches," Fuller said. "Even though this is an independent water study, we are all very concerned about water. We've asked them to guarantee our wells, and if they go dry, to make it right."

Fuller said residents also had concerns about beautification and landscaping, as well as noise and the overall appearance of the facility.

"Some of the neighbors will walk out their door and this will be the first thing they see," he said. "I ask you to consider these things as part of the approval.

"People have tried to come here before and I've never met any who give a damn and try to work with the community and make things better," he said. "I think it speaks well of PNM that they try to be good neighbors."

Dr. Karen Kane raised concerns about the amount of water the plant would use and the impact on farmers and irrigators.

She was also worried that the evaporation ponds would be highly mineralized and a danger to wildlife and migrating birds.

Saying that PNM had answered a lot of questions, west mesa resident Mary Holmes said she didn't believe a lot of what they said.

"I don't feel they are being truthful, and are sidestepping issues. Their 800 foot wells are going to be deeper than many other wells out there," Holmes said. "The report, a lot of the figures are speculative. Anyone can pay for a report. I don't want to wait four years until they drop that well and find my well dry.

"I spent my retirement money to buy the land, build a house and put a business up there," she said. "Now I'll have this plant to look at half a mile away. We've spent a lot of money to buy our properties so we don't have to live in the city. They are going to come in and endanger our rural lifestyle and endanger the wildlife. Please don't give them the change."

Other residents expressed further concerns about the impact to their private wells, emissions and the sight pollution of the view.

Joe Myer asked if PNM had done any cost analysis on possibly locating the new plant in the Rio Grande Industrial Park on the other side of the river versus the La Luz site.

During the planning and zoning hearing, residents and representatives of the power plant already in RGIP asked why PNM didn't build there, since the park is already zoned I-3.

Moye said PNM put out a request for proposal and reviewed 30 potential build sites. While there was a proposal submitted by the plant owners in the RGIP, Moye said it was not selected.

"We have to choose the most cost effective technology and location, because those costs will be passed on to our rate payers," Moye said. "This location (La Luz) was proposed by Wellhead as the most cost effective."

The project will be developed by Wellhead Electric Company, a California-based developer. Wellhead was selected by PNM from among the power plant developers that responded to a 2011 request for proposal on the project.

Moye said PNM had discussed paving Harrison with the county and would coordinate any improvements with the county.

She also said the plant would be using reverse osmosis to take minerals out of the water it used for the facility, so what ended up in the evaporation ponds would be "almost distilled.

It has been PNM's and the developer's experience that these ponds do not attract wildlife and if they do drink it, they will not be harmed."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.