Peoples Energy Resources cleared one more hurdle Tuesday on its way to building a proposed 280-megawatt power plant south of Rio Communities.

The Valencia County Planning and Zoning Commission approved the site plan review for the Valencia Energy facility with a 3-1 vote.

The facility would have two General Electric combustion turbines, which are 200 feet long and 50 feet high for the air intake and emission stacks. There would also be a 980-square-foot administration building on the eight-acre facility, which would be located on 18 total acres.

Ruben Chavez, county planning and zoning inspector, told the commission that Peoples Energy Resources had fulfilled the punch list he created as he reviewed the site plans.

“They fulfilled eight of the nine items I wanted addressed,” Chavez said of the list, which included replatting of the site, availability of water, road design, impact of disposed water, control of storm water, hazardous substances forwarded to the wastewater plant, access to natural gas lines and access of a road to NM 304.

The concern about availability of water was addressed by a letter from the State Engineer’s office, which indicated that New Mexico Water Service Company’s (NMWSC) well has the capability of providing 190 acre-feet of water annually to the facility.

“Since the water, which will be returned to sewer system, will be de-mineralized the concern about impact to the groundwater became a non-issue,” said Chavez.

The site plan addressed the potential storm water runoff with a drainage plan and berms to hold the water.

Hazardous substances being placed in the wastewater system would be addressed by the NMWSC monitoring system, Chavez said.

Regarding natural gas access, PNM has gas lines routed through the industrial park that the facility would access. Peoples Energy plans to lay new line where needed.

“The only one that is still outstanding is the requirement of the State Highway Department for a developer to submit an application for permit to access the highway,” Chavez said.

“We believe, since the seller of the land has agreed to improve the roads to the facility, they are responsible for applying for the permit,” said John Kelly, Peoples Energy’s attorney.

Prior to voting on the review, Commissioner George Koch asked that the landscape buffer between the property and the residential-zoned property east of the facility be increased because a 16-to-18-foot buffer would be inadequate.

“Could Christine Drive be closed at the property and the company purchase the land to the industrial park’s east border? Then Peoples Energy could create an 80-foot landscape buffer between the residential area and the plant,” Koch said. “An 18-foot landscape buffer only allows a single row of trees, which isn’t much.”

Chavez indicated that Chris-tine Drive is the main north-south road in the industrial park and is needed for access to the 100 acres north of the proposed power plant.

“Couldn’t the 100 acres have access to NM 304 with its own road?” Koch asked.

After discussion, the issue of egress from the proposed power plant was left as planned. However, Peoples Energy agreed to add 20 feet of additional landscaping to the east side of the property.

Commissioner Jamie Goldberg voted against the site plan. He asked representatives of Peoples Energy if they could redesign the plant to use less water after hearing Dr. Joe Rizzo, a retired physicist, say air-cooled facilities use 10 percent less water.

“The peaking plant at Rio Bravo and Interstate 25 in Albuquerque is an air-cooled system, and it uses 10 percent less water,” Rizzo said.

Peoples Energy has estimated that the power plant could use up to 100 acre feet of water in one year. When asked how they came up with that number, the developer said the figures were calculated from the total number of days it is estimated that the plant will be used, said Cameron Epard, director of power generation for Peoples Energy Resources.

He added that the air-cooled system was inefficient in the higher temperatures at which the peaking plant would be operating.

“It is not cost efficient to use air-cooling instead of water-cooling,” Epard said. “Air-cooled systems are applicable for combined systems, not peaking systems. For peaking plants, the cost of production of the electricity doubles when the temperature is over 100 degrees. The cost is comparable when the plant runs at 80 to 85 degrees, but peaking plants are called upon when the use of electricity increases when the temperature is higher.”

Jeff Greg of the Burns and McDonnell engineering firm that is designing the power plant said the air-cooled system is used when a plant has more hours of operation because the cost is spread across its total operational time. “There are several impacts on the design of the plant, including the facility taking more space; there is more noise and it is less efficient.”

As the meeting began, the commission established that it would listen only to issues regarding the site plan review, which was all that it could act upon.

However, the commission did let citizens speak on a few other issues, such as the possible devaluation of the adjacent land, zoning of the industrial park, potential earthquake hazard because of faults in the area and the impact on the county’s air.

Landowner Larry Alba said he felt the zoning was illegal because landowners in the area had not received letters of notification of the zone change, as the county ordinance requires.

It was determined that the zoning change occurred in 1999 when the county commission approved its zoning plan. County Attorney Tom Garde explained that, because the changes were county wide, by state law, the county notified the public through printed legal notices in the county newspaper.

“This zoning and type of business conflicts with the original intent of the Rio Grande Industrial Park and the covenants for the Rio Grande Estates,” Alba said. “Heavy industry should not be located next to residential-zoned property. The original covenants did not allow it.”

“This is an appropriate business for this property’s zoning,” said Garde.

“This is in accordance with the ordinances we have today,” said Commissioner Bill Holliday. “This is a legal use of this land.”

Alba also expressed his concern that the value of the residential land in the area would be reduced in value.

Commission Chairman Her-man Tabet said the sellers of the property have as much to lose as any other nearby landowner. “They own approximately 5,776 acres in the area, plus the balance of the industrial park. If anyone is going to lose, it is going to be them, since they own so much land.”

William Dean introduced information about earthquake faults and a large magma pool in the area of the proposed site. Because of this, he said, he is concern about earthquakes and their potential impact on the gas lines in the area.

“Because of the heat source from the power plant’s emission stacks, I feel that, if there was a rupture of the gas lines, it could cause an explosion.”

Tomé resident Stacy Johnson told the commission that Transwestern Pipe Line had just completed a $3 million inspection of its gas lines with a “smart pig” which inspects the interior and exterior surfaces of the pipes.

“This inspection has been completed from Corona to Laguna and Gallup to California,” she said of the inspection that her husband participated in.

Several citizens in favor of the proposed power plant were in the audience and also spoke.

“On behalf of the sellers of the land to Peoples Energy, we would not sell anything to anybody if it is a danger to the community,” said Placido Garcia, one of the owners of the Rio Grande Industrial Park.

“Valencia County has always thrown things out that could help its economy develop,” said Sam Maestas. “I believe this is a good thing to bring to Valencia County.”

“We have seen things proposed for this county come and go because a small group of people protest against them,” Eric Eickwald said. “I hope it doesn’t happen this time.”

Prior to voting in favor of the site plan review, Commissioner Harold Maez said “growth is going to cost us. If we don’t invest some things, such as water, we will be missing an opportunity for our county.”

What’s your Reaction?
Jane Moorman