DGA Consulting, a subsidiary of a Pittsburgh-area company that opened a Tempe, Ariz., office in January, immediately booked a regional piece of business: a contract to handle the civil engineering work for a $350-million transmission project in northern New Mexico.

Although many major power-line jobs in the Southwest have been delayed because of a drop in electric demand, there has been an increase in projects in the planning stages, especially smaller projects such as the Lucky Corridor line in New Mexico, says Peter Kandaris, a DGA Consulting manager. Smaller projects face fewer hurdles than larger ones and tend to have better chances of being built, he says.

The Lucky Corridor project calls for upgrading about 93 miles of existing 115-kV line with a double-circuit 230-kV line in northern New Mexico. Once built, the line will be able to deliver about 850 MW of renewable and natural-gas-fired generation to the Four Corners trading hub, according to Lynn Chapman Greene, president and CEO of Lucky Corridor LLC.

The project runs through an area rich in wind, solar and natural-gas resources, Greene says. Northern New Mexico has limited transmission capacity, which is preventing the area from developing its generating resources, she says.

Across the Southwest, “renewables are driving quite a bit of development,” Kandaris says. At the same time, “we've known in the West [that] we desperately need lines upgraded,” he says.

The Lucky Corridor project may face an easier regulatory path than many other transmission projects because it proposes upgrading an existing line and staying within an existing right-of-way, Greene says.

Ultimately, Lucky Corridor will seek anchor tenants that will contract for transmission capacity on the line, she says. Greene expects the project will be able to start operating in 2015, which matches up with utility solicitations for power supply.

The project will have a rated capacity of 2,000 MW, but because of various constraints it will be able to deliver only about a third of the capacity to the Four Corners hub, Greene says. However, the line may be able to deliver more energy to the hub as upgrades are made to the transmission system in the region, she says.

The line will include 48 strands of optical fiber. Lucky Corridor plans to use four strands, and it will try to find a telecommunications company interested in contracting for the remaining fiber, Greene says.

Similar projects are moving forward in the Southwest. For example, Kandaris points to the $91-million Electrical District 5-to-Palo Verde project in Arizona that includes a mix of new and upgraded 230-kV lines as well as acquiring capacity on an existing 500-kV line. The Western Area Power Administration is financing the project, which is designed to access renewable generation.