LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — A proposed power plant in eastern New Mexico's Quay County could win approval in as little as two months.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission voted Tuesday to put Xcel Energy's diesel-powered plant on a fast track for approval, a move that likely will bypass a hearing examiner.

The $16 million plant would solve a problem that has occasionally paralyzed the small city of Tucumcari, Commission Chairman Patrick Lyons told the Las Cruces Sun-News (

Tucumcari has been left without power for hours because only one power line brings electricity to town, and it crosses 60 miles of sometimes rugged territory from Clovis that has seen grass fires and tornadoes in recent years, Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves said. An old backup power plant was dismantled last year, and Xcel hopes the new plant could be running by summer 2013.

"You can't pump gas. You can't transact business in any store. It shuts the town down," Lyons said.

The new plant would provide 23 megawatts of standby electricity for Tucumcari, more than enough to power the town of 5,400 residents.

The Quay County plant would be powered by diesel fuel. It would be constructed from parts of a plant in Borger, Texas, that will be decommissioned in the fall, Reeves said.

Construction costs are estimated at $15.8 million, but ratepayers would pay $16.4 million over time with interest. The utility serves about 100,000 New Mexico customers in Carlsbad, Roswell, Hobbs, Clovis, Artesia and Tucumcari.

The new plant would only be used when needed to supply Tucumcari or add power for use in other parts of the Xcel system.

Lyons said the project had solid support in eastern and southern New Mexico. He said he was concerned about opposition from environmental groups outside Xcel's service area, given that the plant would use diesel fuel.

Commissioner Jason Marks said those in Xcel's service area would be free to challenge the project on rates, though he said any increases to customers' bills probably would be minimal.