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FARMINGTON — Federal, state and local leaders recently wrote to a transmission line company in support of a plan to build a nearly $1 billion natural gas and solar power plant in San Juan County that could begin operating in late 2019.

“One of my top priorities continues to be diversifying New Mexico’s economy, and promoting bold economic change that focuses on growing our private sector,” Gov. Susana Martinez said in a July letter that praised the power plant, known as the Clean Path Energy Center.

The state’s five congressional delegates and County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter also sent letters in August and September, respectively, to Western Area Power Administration Administrator Mark Gabriel. The power plant’s developer, Western Energy Partners, doesn’t yet have approval to connect to that company’s transmission lines.

First it needs to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, said Kara Lamb, a spokeswoman for the transmission line company. Once it does, her company will be ready to move forward with Western Energy Partners, she said.

Western Energy Partners President Curt Hildebrand said Western Area Power Administration will probably publish in October a notice of intent to build the power plant – which is required under the national disclosure law. That will begin the public comment period.

Hildebrand also said his company’s partners have committed all the equity for the project, and he expects to take out a loan to finance the rest in mid 2017. He could not say how large the loan would be.

He said his company doesn’t yet have an agreement to sell electricity – though federal and state officials say getting one won’t be hard – but company representatives have been talking with numerous potential utility customers. He wouldn’t provide many details about the possible customers but said they include entities in and outside New Mexico.

Asked whether he’s identified a company to buy the power plant, he said his first priority is to work through the process to build it.

“We’re tremendously pleased and proud by the wide ranging and bipartisan support we’ve received to date,” he said. “It’s really unprecedented from our experience to have this level of support at such an early stage in the project.”

In mid September, Martinez announced the state’s new energy plan, which includes oil and coal but also natural gas and renewable resources, such as solar power. At the power plant, official plan for natural gas to generate 680 megawatts of electricity and solar panels to create another 70 megawatts.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.

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