In the 1920s, the communities of West Texas and Southern New Mexico were expanding rapidly and with this expansion came the need for more electricity. El Paso Electric rose to the challenge and built a new power station to supplement the existing generating facility at the Santa Fe Station.
The new power station, completed in November 1929, was named the Rio Grande Power Station. The plant was built in what was then called El Paso’s upper valley, now Sunland Park, New Mexico. The name was befitting of the location of its construction since the power station was built on the border of the Rio Grande River on what had been thought to be the Texas side. As a result of a meandering river and eventual legislation in the United States Congress, El Paso Electric’s property where the power station is located was deeded to New Mexico.
Over its history, the power station, which was originally built to meet the needs of a population totaling 162,000, has undergone various expansions and upgrades. Today, the power station generates 276 megawatts (MW). The fuel for converting water into steam is primarily natural gas. The cooling water supply source has changed from inlet water systems from the canals to well water supply sources.
Rio Grande Power Plant Facts
- Construction on the power station began March 1929 and was completed in a record-setting eight months in November 1929
- An average of 600 men were employed during construction and were under the supervision of Mr. R.G. Taber
- The power station building, equipment, feeder lines and substations cost $5 million to build in 1929
- More than 200 citizens of El Paso, Juárez, Mexico and the valleys were guests of
El Paso Electric at a dinner on November 26, 1929 when the Rio Grande Power Station was placed in operation for the first time. The Honorable R.E. Thomason, Mayor of
El Paso, pressed the button that placed the facilities of the new power station at the service of the people in this community. Dinner was served in the giant turbine room.
- On January 1, 1950, addition of the front office building was completed
- The power station’s cooling water medium was converted from direct intake from the canal to well water systems and cooling towers in 1953
- The method of producing distilled water was changed from Evaporators to a Reverse Osmosis System in 1981
- The power station has expanded to include 8 generating units. Units were added to the power station the following years:
- 1929 – Units 1 & 2: 19 and 25 MWs, General Electric and Westinghouse Turbine-Generators
1941 – Unit 3: 20 MWs, General Electric Turbine-Generator
1948 – Unit 4: 36 MWs, Westinghouse Turbine-Generator
1953 – Unit 5: 34 MWs, General Electric Turbine-Generator
1957 – Unit 6: 50 MWs, Westinghouse Turbine-Generator
1958 – Unit 7: 50 MWs, General Electric Turbine-Generator
1972 – Unit 8: 150 MWs, Westinghouse Turbine-Generator
2013 – Unit 9: 150 MWs, General Electric Aero derivative Technology
- Today, units 6, 7, 8 are operational and operate primarily on natural gas. The other units were retired in 1988.
- Unit 9 was added in 2013. It utilizes state-of-the-art jet-engine technology, is highly efficient in its use of natural gas fuel and uses less than one-third the water per megawatt than conventional steam units
- The Rio Grande Power Station has the capacity to generate 276 MW of electricity