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New Mexico Adding Gas-Fired Peaker

New Mexico regulators on Thursday approved more natural gas-fired generation in the southeast part of the state bordering on the greater El Paso area. The Texas Public Utility Commission previously approved the El Paso Electric Co. project.

The five-member New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC), however, was split over the $84 million, 87 MW gas-fired peaking project, approving it by a 3-2 vote. PRC Chairman Patrick Lyons and Vice Chair Jerome Block were among the trio supporting the Texas-based electric utility's gas generation project.

Lyons called the proposed facility "a much-needed" means of getting added power to one of New Mexico's fastest growing areas.

El Paso Electric now has approvals from the two state regulatory commissions and the New Mexico Environmental Department to move ahead with its plans to build a gas-fired peaking unit at its Rio Grande Generating Station in Sunland Park, NM. The project was selected through a competitive bidding process in 2008, which sought up to 100 MW of new peaking capacity to come online by the summer of 2013.

El Paso Electric told regulators in both states that the winning bid envisioned an 87 MW simple-cycle gas-fired combustion turbine that will be among the cleanest and most efficient units in the private-sector utility's generation fleet. It will be designated Rio Grande Unit 9.

Unit 9 will have quick-start capability and a relatively short time to achieve full power production, a utility spokesperson said. "Rio Grande station is the site of three existing natural gas-fired units, so Unit 9 will be able to take advantage of existing infrastructure of pipelines, substation and power transmission line facilities, as well as other facilities," the utility told regulators in its state filings.

Commissioners Jason Marks and Theresa Becenti-Aguilar voted against the project. Ben Hall was the third commissioner supporting El Paso Electric's peaking plant.

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