PNM has energized a 40-acre switching station northwest of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, that will serve as a new source to bring electricity to customers in northwest Albuquerque and southwest Sandoval County, including the City of Rio Rancho.

Peak demand for electricity on that part of the PNM system has grown 25 percent since 2007. Growth in the area is visible; construction projects completed or in the works include Presbyterian Rio Rancho Medical Center, UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center, UNM West, and CNM Rio Rancho Campus, the Hewlett Packard customer service and technical support center and the V. Sue Cleveland High School.

“As our communities grow, the PNM system must grow so that we continue to provide reliable electricity," said Greg Miller, PNM lead director of New Mexico Engineering and Operations. “We designed this project to support future growth for the least cost to our customers.”

The transmission and distribution system is like a network of highways that brings electricity from power plants to individual customers. As customers require more electricity, the result can be more frequent power outages -- instead of stalled traffic -- unless capacity is added, according to Miller. PNM customers statewide set an all-time record for demand last summer of 1,973 megawatts at 4 p.m. on July 19, 2010.

Electricity generated by nuclear, wind, natural gas, and coal is carried along 345-kV transmission lines to the switching station where the voltage is lowered. The electricity then travels along smaller 115 kV transmission lines that link with substations where the voltage is lowered again. Distribution feeder lines bring the electricity to homes and businesses. The switching station project includes a new 13-mile transmission line leading into an upgraded Rio Rancho substation.

A half-million pound transformer was brought all the way from South Korea and made the final steps of the journey on a specialty trailer with 174 wheels on 24 axles in December 2009, just one part of the planning process that began in 2006.

Total project costs exceed $36 million. The switching station is one of many investments in infrastructure improvements the company has made in recent years. A portion of the costs are included in the company’s request to raise rates pending before the N.M. Public Regulation Commission.