Another merchant power line framed as meeting a need for increased capacity for the transmission of electricity generated from ‘renewable energy sources.’
Be prepared to react to the Environmental Impact Statement for Hunt’s “Verde” power line when it is released next winter.
It’s back to the drawing board for SunZia. The state Public Regulation Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to reject the company’s long-debated $2 billion high-voltage SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, two power lines that would cut across seven counties of Southern New Mexico.
The vote was 4-0, with Commissioner Pat Lyons, R-Cuervo, recusing himself. Lyons explained at the outset of the discussion that he’s a longtime friend of a SunZia manager, so he didn’t want to give the appearance of impropriety.
Hearing examiner Ashley Schannauer had recommended the commission reject the proposed path of the lines, which would go through Lincoln, Torrance, Socorro, Sierra, Luna, Grant and Hidalgo counties. He said SunZia’s filing lacked specific information on the actual location of the route.
“The line location is not described sufficiently to make that decision,” Schannauer told commissioners.
Schannauer said SunZia didn’t adequately research the zoning and land-use requirements of the property surrounding its proposed route. And there are two sections of property through which the company has yet to secure easements.
The commission denied the route without prejudice, which means SunZia can come back with a new proposal for two 1,500-megawatt, high-voltage lines running 520 miles from Central New Mexico to Arizona. The project was first proposed in 2008.
And that’s what SunZia will do, a spokesman said after the hearing.
“SunZia is assessing the decision and will review the final order citing deficiencies in the application and exhibits filed in the case, and will refile an amended application in the coming months,” spokesman Ian Calkins said.
Finding a route for the project has been a balancing act from the beginning.
To the south, there is White Sands Missile Range, which meant negotiations with the Pentagon.
The U.S. Department of Defense initially opposed the lines crossing through sections north of White Sands. SunZia won the blessings of the Pentagon after agreeing to bury five miles of lines to avoid interfering with military tests.
Environmentalists fear the lines are too close to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near San Antonio, N.M.
“The location of most concern is the proposal for the power line to cross the Rio Grande at Escondida, north of Bosque del Apache,” said Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chairwoman of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“This location is south of crane and geese feeding areas,” she said. “So in winter, twice a day, these birds will be flying from roosting to feeding areas and back again, placing themselves at risk of collision with the power lines every trip. The lines will be at an altitude where they fly.
“Not only that,” she added, “but twice a year, this section of the Rio Grande is a pinch point in the annual migration of hundreds of bird species. Basically, if you wanted to kill as many birds as possible with a transmission line, this is where you would put it.”
The project found a champion in U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who wrote in a 2016 op-ed, “This isn’t just about SunZia, it’s about seizing an opportunity to diversify our economy and chart a course for a more prosperous future for New Mexico. We should be a major exporter of electrical power. We can spur substantial additional renewable energy development by adding the transmission capacity that will allow us to export clean energy to markets in other states like Arizona and California.”
But some environmentalists have questioned the amount of renewable energy that would actually be transmitted and have questioned whether this was SunZia’s actual intended purpose.
In a 2015 letter to the chairman of the Arizona Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee, leaders of three environmentalist groups wrote, “The purpose of the SunZia Project has been repeatedly framed by the applicant as meeting a need for increased capacity for the transmission of electricity generated from ‘renewable energy sources.’ ”
The letter goes on, “When the Southwestern Power Group … the principal investor in the SunZia Project, originally proposed the project, they made clear that the purpose of the SWPG proposal was to provide needed transmission capacity for its own proposed 1,000 megawatt … natural gas-fired power plant located in Bowie, Arizona. …
“SWPG’s personal reason for proposing the SunZia project was to permit transmission of power generated at the Bowie power plant westward to Phoenix and California.”
In 2016, the Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee approved the 200-plus-mile portion of the route in Arizona.
Source Santa Fe New Mexican