Power to the Permian: Xcel sees record numbers during oil boom

Aug 07, 2018

Adrian Hedden | Carlsbad Current-Argus | August 1, 2018

Amid a heat wave and ongoing expansion in the oil and gas industry, one of southeast New Mexico’s primary electricity providers reported its highest volume ever transmitted earlier this month.

On July 19, Xcel Energy’s Texas-New Mexico regional transmission networked handled 6,151 megawatts at about 5 p.m., read a Monday Xcel news release.

That was 350 megawatts above the forecasted peak for 2018, the release read.

A single megawatt can power about 500 homes.

Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves said the company’s peak demand typically occurs in early August, weeks after this year’s record-breaking transmission.

The system was taxed not only by the heat, as temperatures neared the 110-degree mark, but also by the economic growth, he said, especially in portions of southeast New Mexico. 

"We are seeing especially strong growth in portions of our New Mexico service area where oil and gas operations are booming," Reeves said.

The company’s highest concentration of customers is in Amarillo, Texas, Reeves said, which saw up to a 10 percent increase in demand on July 19 when compared to the same day last year.

To meet the demands, Reeves said Xcel is working to add infrastructure in the area in hopes of increasing the system’s capacity.

That means more power plants, distributions lines and substations. 

The added infrastructure can reduce overloads, he said, in growing areas, while allowing the company to import power into the region from more sources.

The company also increases available volume by freeing up power plant capacity as wholesale customers leave the system, Reeves said.

This allows for more power and cheaper rates for industrial and residential users, he said.

“The investments we’ve made in expanding and strengthening our transmission and distribution networks have helped us mitigate areas of overloading and have provided us new pathways to import additional, and often less expensive, power supplies,” Reeves said.

David Hudson, president of Xcel’s Texas and New Mexico operations said the region’s power grids are facing record demands during the boom, making Xcel’s expansion essential to the local and regional economy.

The company’s recent investments and development in the area, he said, pre-empted the boom and allowed Xcel to meet the demands.

“Overall, our ability to supply the vast amount of electricity needed to meet this record demand has been largely unhindered, which is a direct result of the investments we’ve made in power lines, substations and power generating capacity,” Hudson said.

“This large amount of demand would have caused serious concerns just a few years ago before we made these critical upgrades.”

Wholesale customers, mostly rural electricity cooperatives or municipal utilities, are increasingly producing their own power supplies, read the release, freeing up Xcel’s transmission capacity to provide service to industrial and residential customers at less cost.

Further expansion, Hudson said, will add “more than a dozen” substations in Texas and New Mexico, with a plant already planned for Bushland, Texas in the Amarillo metro area.

Aside from increasing power plant capacity, the company also increased import capabilities, read the release, using high-voltage transmission connections, opening up the region to a broader electricity market.

“And with new lines such as the recently completed line between Hobbs and the Carlsbad area, the expanded network within the region is better able to move this extra power to growing load centers such as the southeast New Mexico oil fields,” read the release.