Tres Amigas project proposes to connect Eastern, Western, and Texas power grids

Michael Giberson

A high-profile, high-technology power project is making waves well beyond the small town of Clovis, New Mexico, where it has secured land for development.

I’ve been telling my students and anyone else I can induce to listen to me for a few minutes (i.e., mostly just my students) that my new hometown of Lubbock, Texas is in an interesting place, electrically speaking, because we are so close to that corner of the country where the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Texas (ERCOT) Interconnection meet. The developers of the Tres Amigas LLC project hope to spend about a $1 billion in Clovis, about 100 miles northwest of Lubbock, to prove that this area is in fact an interesting place.

Tres Amigas has proposed building a three-way superconducting HVDC link between the three separate power systems to allow power to be shipped among them. (Currently the systems are linked by a small number of weak and relatively unimportant DC interties.) The press releases (by Tres Amigas and partner-company American Superconductor) highlight the way the project can help foster development of renewable power in the region — and it would, and politically those are good buttons to press — as a practical matter this project should be a good deal for power plant developers of all kinds and for power consumers in the area.

Leading the Tres Amigas effort is Phil Harris, former CEO of the PJM Interconnection. As noted, power systems technology firm American Superconductor is partnering in the effort, and directing AMSC’s efforts is Terry Winter, former CEO of the California ISO.  Pat Wood, former chairman of FERC and former chairman of the PUC of Texas, is working with Texas-based transmission developer Sharyland Utilities, and the Wall Street Journal story quotes Wood as saying Sharyland is interested in partnering with Tres Amigas, too.  While the project is at an early stage, still seeking long-term financing and regulatory approvals, these are quite talented people.

Of course, Lubbock is already an interesting place, electrically speaking, because the city is served by competing distribution utilities (noted here and here) rather than by a distribution monopoly.  But that’s a local issue.  A $1 billion spent up the road a little ways could help show how interesting the area is on a much broader scale.

More links:

ADDED: POWERnews, “Transmission Project to Link Three U.S. Grids and Aid Renewables.” Once again renewable power makes the headline, but the value here comes from additional potential gains from trade that can be captured via the project. Whether solar power or coal power, consumers will be better off by having the additional options the system will provide.

STILL MORE, FROM THE COMMENTS: Popular Mechanics, “Lone Star Energy: Why Texas Will Resist the Call for a Unified Grid.” News stories suggest that Tres Amigas plans to ask FERC to confirm that nothing about the project will upset current jurisdictional arrangements regarding ERCOT.

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3 thoughts on “Tres Amigas project proposes to connect Eastern, Western, and Texas power grids

  1. Texas has long liked having the ERCOT grid mostly not regulated by the feds. I suspect so long as everyone plays nice, there is no reason to expect this project to upset the existing balance. If the project threatened to subject ERCOT to full FERC regulation, I’d suspect an army of state officials and energy industry workers would march to the Texas-New Mexico border with a large pair of scissors and snip the offending transmission lines in two.

  2. Pingback: Economics for Tres Amigas « Knowledge Problem

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