The state’s largest electricity provider got the green light to add a new substation to its infrastructure in Valencia County after a unanimous vote by the commission on a recent zone change request.

Russell Britto, a land use permitting specialist with PNM, came before the Valencia County Commission to ask for a zone change — from rural residential to industrial — on nearly five acres on the mesa west of the city of Belen in the unincorporated county.

The county’s planning and zoning commission heard the request in June, and unanimously recommended the zone change to the county commission, the body which has final authority in granting zone changes and overlay zones.

The land for the new substation is west of PNMs existing 40-megawatt La Luz Energy Center, a peak-hour, gas-powered generating station which came online in January 2016.

The location for the La Luz plant was selected due to it being adjacent to existing PNM facilities, which was the main factor in choosing the location for the new substation, Britto said.

“There are a lot of renewables on the utility scale being added to the grid and we needed to make sure there are no surges,” Britto told the commissioners. “The new substation will accommodate the new energy coming into the grid.”

When he presented the zone change request to the planning and zoning commission, Britto said the new substation would be a secure, walled facility with new transformer switches and other utility scale equipment.

The facility won’t be manned once it’s operational and energized, he said, but will have security cameras and motion-detecting lighting that comes on if someone breaches the wall, like other substations in the area.

While the substation isn’t in one of the defined priority growth areas of the county as per its comprehensive plan, Britto said it could provide electrical power in new developments in those areas and in other parts of the county.

“The primary reason (for a new substation) is to handle utility the scale renewable power coming into the county and metro area and passing through,” he said. “We need additional capacity to regulate and control voltages coming in so it can ultimately get to customers. This will help us have a safe and adequate supply of electricity.”

The new substation will be a separate facility from the La Luz center, but will be connected by overhead lines, Britto told the planning and zoning board.

Britto said six property owners — two being PNM — were sent notification letters about the requested zone change and no one expressed concerns about the new facility. There were no members of the public who spoke against or in favor of the new substation at either the planning and zoning or commission meeting.

The lighting at the facility will comply with the New Mexico Night Sky Protection Act, which requires lights to point down and in towards properties to prevent light pollution.

“They will only come on if motion is detected. They can also be turned on manually if, for instance, a work crew is there at night,” Britto said. “We will reach out to neighbors if the zone change is approved during the site plan process.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.