After six years of studies, debate and planning, Cross Texas Transmission and Sharyland Utilities have launched the construction of lines to collect wind energy and send it downstate at a cost of $1 billion.
Cross Texas has an Amarillo office and Sharyland is building one just south of town, but the action is further afield.
The work is part of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone process that began in 2005. It will cost as much as $7 billion to move wind power from across much of West Texas to major cities such as Dallas and San Antonio. Ratepayers in the areas where the power goes will fund the project over time.
North Houston Pole Line, a major contractor for the Sharyland lines, has completed preparing storage and staging yards near Hereford and Wildorado and is clearing right of way north from Hereford to Wildorado and then east to White Deer for one segment it is building, said Sharyland spokeswoman Jeanne Phillips. Tower components are beginning to arrive.
In the Silverton area, work is under way to clear land for a substation, a staging yard and clear land for a line to run southeast to Dickens County.
The Sharyland segments should total about 300 miles.
The project is a major one for the company and holds promise for future energy projects, perhaps using different fuels for generation.
“This will substantially alter Sharyland in terms of its size,” said Hunter Hunt, the company’s president and co-owner. “Equally important are the long-term growth opportunities here. We firmly believe economic development up here will continue at a robust pace.”
Cross Texas, also planning to build about 300 miles of transmission lines by the deadline of 2013, has begun pouring foundations for poles and setting bases near its staging area in Shamrock.
“We’ve done about 40,” said Cameron Fredkin, vice president of project development. “We’ll be putting up wire early next year.”
The construction headquarters will move to Childress in late 2012.
Great Southwestern Construction, the general contractor for Cross Texas, has about 50 people in Wheeler and Gray counties working on the line from Childress to Lefors.
Demand for the transmission line has the company optimistic.
“We continue to field a number of requests and there’s probably more out there. It should increase as we get closer to finishing,” Fredkin said.
“Most are on the large side but to start they tend to construct in phases of a few hundred megawatts at a time.”
Sharyland officials are also pleased with the number of wind farm projects asking to use the transmission lines.
“We’ve had a large number of requests – all the major players,” Caskey said. “Some are large but also some smaller ones. Those are local groups putting together projects. But I would say they’ll be larger than ones in service in a lot of places.”
It could be more than two years before either company can qualify to begin collecting on their investments in the projects, unprecedented in the Panhandle, because the lines have to be operating and the Public Utility Commission must approve the recovery of funds from the ratepayers downstate.
Sharyland, an offshoot of Hunt Consolidated, has the backing of several domestic and foreign companies.
“It’s a world-class project,” said Kirk Baker, chairman and president of Electric Infrastructure Alliance of America, a specially formed real estate investment trust that will actually own the towers and lines and lease them to Sharyland, one of the partners in the trust.
Financing comes from a pool of money totaling $2.7 billion for a variety of projects.
Cross Texas will own and operate its lines using borrowed money and funds from its parent LS Power, Fredkin said.
Cross Texas has meant jobs for about 30 people locally so far.
“The number will increase as the construction ramps up,” Fredkin said.
Other local impact includes businesses in Amarillo, Childress, Pampa and Wellington providing services and materials.
Sharyland’s local impact, beyond paying rights of way, also start with the contractor.
“We’re bringing in contractors. These are experts who will bring in supervisors and equipment,” said Sharyland Senior Vice President Mark Caskey. “They’ll hire locally if they can find people with the qualifications.”
Other local business connections include smaller contractors, people who acquire rights of way, fencing companies and rural electric cooperatives and Southwestern Public Service, which will provide electricity for construction, Caskey said.
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