Since Tres Amigas will be the first U.S. project of this type, finding a contractor that is willing to assume the liability of the project's successful operation has been more of a challenge, Stidham says. "They are used to building high-voltage switching stations and high-voltage transmission lines, but when you incorporate those with a voltage source converter, it's hard to get your hands around the technology and to guarantee that it's going to work once its built," he adds.
Construction would involve extensive transmission lines, a warehouse and administration buildings and large buildings to house the voltage source converters, which will be manufactured in the U.K. by the Alstom Grid under a $200-million contract. The real boon, though, won't come directly from Tres Amigas' construction jobs, but from the expected influx of transmission lines and renewable energy producers to the area, Hendrick says. "A shortage [of] transmission capacity [is] keeping us from developing our excellent wind and solar possibilities," he says. "We are hoping that as soon as activity begins at Tres Amigas, transmission companies will be out here immediately trying to get a leg up in stringing lines."
As New Mexico nears capacity on its transmission lines, it faces pressure to compete with neighboring states for renewable development. Texas is currently completing its $7-billion Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) transmission line project, which facilitates renewable energy development by interconnecting wind farms in the Panhandle and west Texas to the large metropolitan areas to Dallas and other large metro areas. Ironically, it was CREZ that makes Tres Amigas feasible by bringing ERCOT connections within close proximity to the other two power grids near the Panhandle.
Early on, Tres Amigas announced plans to use underground superconducting DC cables to transmit power in the project. Stidham now says they are not planning to introduce the technology until the third phase. While superconductivity cables are vastly more efficient than traditional copper lines, the technology has only been used in several test cases in the U.S., making its adoption in the risk-adverse power industry very slow, Eckroad says. The adoption of superconductivity has also been hindered by the Dept. of Energy’s freezing of funding for more tests under the current administration. “I am very hopeful that Tres Amigas will be able to go ahead because we do need to have a continuing presence [in superconductivity use],” he adds.