Albuquerque Journal North | April 30, 2010

$100M for Electric Grid

Keira Hay | April 30, 2010

A group of Massachusetts college students offered some insight Thursday into what it might take for Santa Fe to one day operate its own electricity grid.

Money, for one thing.

If you replaced everything in the network of electrical infrastructure, it would cost about $100 million, presenter Andrew Harner said.

Harner and three compatriots from Worcester Polytechnic Institute spent the past seven weeks in Santa Fe investigating the possibilities of a municipally owned electric utility or grid.

One goal behind the idea, which has gained some momentum this year, is the ability of the city to more quickly meet sustainability goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing renewable energy use. If the city remains a customer of PNM, those ambitions arent likely to be realized anytime soon, the students said during a presentation at the Santa Fe Complex.

PNM isnt exactly keen on people using less energy, Steve Tecce said.

Currently, only 6 percent of Santa Fes energy portfolio consists of renewable energy. Other sources include coal, which comprises 46 percent; natural gas, with 32 percent; and nuclear energy, at 16 percent, according to a PNM report.

But if the city moves forward with the venture, initial costs are high.

New power substations would require the largest chunk of cash, around $71 million, though the city might be able to buy used stations at a lower cost.

Other infrastructure expenses: distribution lines at $6 million; power poles at $4 million; transformer drums at $17 million; and power meters at $1 million.

Additional costs, depending on the circumstances, could include up to $30 million in legal fees if PNM objects to Santa Fe striking out on its own, and $20 million to disconnect from Santa Fe County infrastructure.

If Santa Fe purchases power from a third party, rather than produces its own, that expense would be $56 million.

Overall, the students estimated the annual cost for Santa Fe to own, operate and provide service to its residents at $82 million. PNM currently makes around $67 million from city residents and businesses.

Possible ownership models include a city utility much like the Sangre de Cristo Water Company, a co-op or a partnership in which a private company would run the system while the city retained a majority share.

If the city decided to produce its own power, some options might be wind turbines, photovoltaics or biomass cogeneration

A copy of the WPI report will be available in the near future at www.wpi.edu. A hard copy will also be provided to the city of Santa Fe.

Another group of WPIers, who also gave a presentation Thursday, are providing the city with information on the St. Mikes Boulevard project.

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Source: Albuquerque Journal