SunZia signs deal with wind energy company; Controversy remains over transmission project’s plans to cross WSMR land
SunZia, the company that hopes to build energy transmission lines stretching across 515 miles of New Mexico and Arizona, announced Friday that it had signed an anchor tenant.
SunZia said it had a letter of intent from First Wind Energy for its Southwest Transmission Project.
First Wind Energy reserved up to 1,500 megawatts of transmission capacity, according to a statement from SunZia. First Wind is developing high-capacity wind generation projects in central New Mexico.
“Expressed interest for transmission service from renewable generators across SunZia has exceeded the project’s available capacity,” said Tom Wray, SunZia project manager.
SunZia’s proposed $1.2 billion transmission line would start in Lincoln County, N.M., and end in Pinal County in southeastern Arizona.
The company says the line would transport solar and wind power to provide electricity for Western population centers.
SunZia says New Mexico would land 24,600 construction jobs if the company’s preferred route is approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Arizona would get about 18,000 construction jobs, SunZia says. A decision by BLM could come as soon as mid-September.
With jobs to be gained in parts of New Mexico eager for fresh opportunities, SunZia has
plenty of supporters.
They include the governments of Luna, Hidalgo, Grant, Sierra, Torrance and Lincoln counties and the city of Deming, all of which stand to gain economically from construction of power lines and renewable energy projects.
But the project is controversial.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, said SunZia’s preferred route would weaken national defense because it would interfere with training missions of White Sands Missile Range. Pearce opposes the route SunZia wants.
Wray said the company could not afford to change routes at this stage and go through another environment review that would take years. SunZia would have to kill the project for financial reasons if its preferred route is rejected, Wray said.
In Arizona, conservation groups have challenged SunZia’s jobs forecast, saying it is overblown. These groups also say the transmission lines would cause environmental harm to the San Pedro River Valley.
SunZia has a high-profile advocate in New Mexico U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from Albuquerque.
In a letter last month to the Department of the Interior, Heinrich said if the SunZia project were scotched “it will significantly damage New Mexico’s prospects for large-scale renewable energy development.”
He said the project was critical to New Mexico and that routing disagreements could be worked out.
The projected anchor tenant said it hoped the project would proceed.
“Wind is one of New Mexico’s valuable energy resources. If SunZia can resolve its siting challenges, First Wind plans to accelerate the development of this project in cventral New Mexico,” said Kurt Adams, First Wind’s executive vice president and chief development officer.
First Wind, based in Boston, develops, finances and builds renewable energy projects through the country. It operates wind-power systems in the Northeast, the west and Hawaii.
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