The proposed path for a high-voltage wind energy transmission line through southern and western Valencia County and northern Socorro County is still getting plenty of push back.
Not only are residents of the rural, agricultural community of Bosque fighting against the Western Spirit line, but the Socorro County Commission is unanimously opposed to the project. Sen. Clemente Sanchez has also expressed concerns.
The senator was at a recent meeting of Bosque residents, where he listened to their concerns about the line, which included devaluation of their land, interference with farming operations, health consequences for themselves and their livestock, as well as the damage to the rural nature of the community.
“The scarey part is when the Legislature set up RETA in 2007, they gave it eminent domain authority,” Sanchez said.
Eminent domain is the right of a government, or its agent, to take private property for public use after the owners have been paid. This process is typically used when property owners are not willing to sell. To date, a solid contingent of nearly two dozen landowners in Bosque have said they won’t sell right-of-way access for the line across their land.
Energy company Pattern Development is building the $360 million Western Spirit line in cooperation with the state’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority, a quasi-governmental entity that the Legislature created in 2007 to help finance and build transmission systems to carry wind-generated electricity from central and eastern New Mexico.
RETA, which owns the rights to the Western Spirit project, agreed last May to sell the transmission line to PNM.
In October, the Albuquerque Journal reported the state Public Regulation Commission approved PNM’s request to buy the 165-mile transmission line for $285 million, once it is operational in 2021.
Pattern and RETA must finish negotiating right-of-way agreements with more than 300 landowners along the transmission line route, which will run in a U-shape that begins at PNM’s existing main line near Clines Corners in Torrance County.
From there, it runs south toward Corona, then west to the Rio Grande, where it will cross the river in Bosque. It will run north on the west side of Interstate 25 along Belen’s West Mesa and end at PNM’s Pajarito substation west of Albuquerque.
In a recent letter to the editor, Socorro County Commission Chairwoman Martha Salas argues RETA is administering this project as a governmental entity for the sole purpose of turning it over to a private entity, PNM, which violates the state’s anti-donation clause.
The clause prohibits public agencies from giving money or goods to private citizens or corporations.
Salas wrote that at a Socorro County Commission meeting, Pattern Energy representatives described the current corridor for the transmission line as the “path of least resistance.”
“Our low-income population will bear the burdens of this project, without benefit, so that urban more wealthy persons will not,” the letter reads.
The Socorro County commissioners unanimously opposed the power line project, and called on RETA and Pattern to abandon what they called an “ill-conceived and damaging path and re-route the line to create a win-win solution for all involved.”
At the Valencia County Commission’s Nov. 20 meeting, the commissioners went into executive session to discuss granting easements for the transmission line across several roads — Carrejo Road, Escobar Place, Escobar Road, Harrison Road, Hunick Road, Miranda Road, Marble Quarry Road, Villa Linda and Villa Nueva.
After the closed session, county attorney Adren Nance said a review of county ordinances indicated granting easements across public roads was an administrative decision that fell to the public works director, Lina Benavidez.
Representatives from Pattern Energy have been invited to the next Valencia County Commission meeting at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 18. The meeting will be at the Los Lunas Transportation Center, 101 Courthouse Road, Los Lunas, in anticipation of high attendance.
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.