Construction of a transmission line to carry renewable energy wind power from Lincoln County to metropolitan Phoenix slipped back two years to 2015, a representative of the Sun Zia Project told county commissioners last week.
Martin Bailey, real property manager for SouthWestern Power Group, said the proposed route stretches about 460 miles from Lincoln County through Luna County, Hidalgo County and Casa Grande, Ariz. The transmission line will provide a delivery capacity of 3,000 megawatts, and all without any tax dollars or federal money anticipated in support of the project, he said. Five substations are included in the design.
The Environmental Impact Statement draft of the project will be published for public review and comment in January, with a final in the summer of 2012 after gathering public comment, he said. Most of the project is located in a 400-foot wide public right of way.
“The project was envisioned to take advantage of public lands when at all possible and that’s why the extensive NEPA (National Environment Policy Act) process,” he said. More than 70 percent is on federal land and 15 percent on state land in Arizona and New Mexico, dealing with two state agencies. The remainder is private land. If the project encounters opposition from private landowners, another route may be sought. No wilderness areas are impacted, he said. If impacts are detected, it’s up to the company to mitigate those or substitute some land. “It’s pretty cut and dry,” he said,
if any environmental issues arise.
The project hit several significant milestones in the last 16 months, after the U.S. Department of Energy designated a Raid Response Transmission Team composed of nine federal agencies to oversee the process, Bailey said during an update requested by commissioners last month. The team is “not to get around National Environmental Policy Act investigation, but to expedite (the handling). The intent was that it not sit on some agency’s desk,” he said.
Sun Zia, the name given the wind energy-generating project that originates in Lincoln County, was selected as a pilot project by the Rapid Response Team and exhibits “a very robust wind resource,” he said.
Seven strategic projects were identified that transport renewable energy or improve system reliability or stability. During research for the project, officials also discovered a robust untapped solar resource in Luna and Hidalgo counties, he said.
“Obviously, Sun Zia is significant, because it will move renewable energy resources from central New Mexico to metro Phoenix,” Baley said. One of the requirements to move forward was obtaining a Western Electricity Coordinating Council Three-Phase Rating, and Sun Zia accomplished all three phases by March 25 of this year. The council covers 11 western states and two Canadian provinces.
“The issue was to make sure what capacity (could be supported) and how that impacted system reliability throughout the West,” he said. “We don’t want the project to come online and transmit 3,000 megawatts to Phoenix and the lights go out in El Paso.”
His company, the project manager, first committed its manpower and financial resources to the project in 2006, he said.
Other participants are the Salt River Project, an Arizona utility; Shell WindEnergy, a division of Royal Dutch Shell company; Tri-State Ge_neration and Transmission Association; and Tucson Electric Power, an Arizona utility.
County Commissioner Kathryn Minter said she was glad to see the project move forward.
“I’m curious to know how the Corona ranchers (feel),” she said. “I know they’ve been talking to (wind power generation companies).”
Matt Bell with the Corona Land Owners Association told commissioners that two companies have secured leases in the Corona area and are just waiting on the transmission line.
One company official said there were three buckets to fill, Bell said. The first was to test the wind, which has been in progress for three years. “The resource is there, but they needed to prove it to their bankers for financing,” he said. “It’s nearly perfect, better than the maps we had.
“The other two buckets are the transmission line. We can’t go anywhere with the resource until we have a way to get to market. The third bucket is the market. There is a lot of competition for that and it is important we move ahead as fast as we can. A lot of people are trying to reach the same market. If we get there late, we’ve wasted a lot of effort.”
Commission Chairman Eileen Sedillo said commissioners are interested in approving a resolution in support of the project, as other communities and counties have done. That type of support is looked at favorably and offers a chance for a government entity to ask for any specific considerations, another Sun Zia representative said. Commissioners already approved an ordinance to protect county residents when wind farms and transmission lines are developed.