Amped-up: Southern Arizona residents share concerns as construction on 550-Mile transmission line nears
A multi-billion dollar project is generating a lot of ‘buzz.’
SunZia Transmission is the largest clean energy infrastructure project in U.S. history, and it’s happening in our own backyard.
Soon, the 550-mile transmission line will bring wind energy from New Mexico to Arizonans.
SunZia comprises two transmission lines. The first is a 3,000-megawatt line running from central New Mexico to south-central Arizona. The second is a 1,500-megawatt line running along the same route. According to officials, the two lines will cost more than $14 billion.
In 2016, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) approved the project.
Now, Pattern Energy, which recently acquired SunZia Transmission, is looking to amend its Certificate of Environmental Compatibility (CEC).
Tuesday night, dozens of people packed into a public hearing at Biosphere 2. The conversation was ‘highly charged.’
“I am quite surprised there wasn’t more public exposure with this project,” said Robin Fogden. “The construction involved is going to denuder a huge amount of desert. The desert barely survives on its own now.”
Fogden, a Catalina resident, voiced his concerns in front of an ACC committee.
“I am opposed to this project because Arizona law states power has to be reliable and dependable,” he said. “When the wind stops blowing, there’s no dependability on these powerlines. If they start sending fossil fuel power down these lines, it’s not green in my opinion.”
The senior director of business development for Pattern Energy, Kevin Wetzel, says there are significant benefits to the SunZia Transmission project.
“3.7 million Americans will be able to receive energy from this project,” said Wetzel. “We expect over $150 million of direct payments to be made to south-central Arizona, and over a billion of economic benefits overall to be created in Arizona.”
Pattern Energy is seeking the following adjustments to its CEC:
Updated structure designs, including additional structures along a one-mile stretch near the Pinal Central substation.
A separate CEC assignment for each transmission line, which will allow for project financing.
A project extension for transmission line 1. This will push completion back from Feb. 2026 to Feb. 2028.
“That will provide a bit of buffer for our construction schedule,” said Wetzel. “We are not going to increase any type of impact with regards to these updated structures. So, the same amount of access roads, the same right-of-way.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, a spokesperson for the Tucson Audubon Society said the impact on wildlife will be “profound.”
The conservation group says hundreds of migratory birds rely on the San Pedro River Valley, which is near the SunZia Transmission route.
In an open letter to the ACC, the Tucson Audubon Society wrote the following:
“The San Pedro River Valley is one of the most biologically important and fragile watersheds in North America. Every year it provides a critical migration corridor for millions of birds, as well as crucial habitat for 250 bird species, including 45 species of special conservation status, some of which, such as the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, are listed as federally endangered and depend on the river for designated critical habitat. The San Pedro River Valley is also home to more than 80 species of mammals, 40 species of reptiles and amphibians, 100 species of butterflies, and 20 species of bats, all of which, added to its avian abundance, make it a biodiversity hotspot of both continental and even global importance. SunZia’s proposed changes would have very significant, and potentially devastating, biological impacts to this exceptionally biodiverse region.”
“Energy diversity is really important,” said Wetzel. “Mid next year, we are anticipating financing the project and beginning construction on transmission line 1.”
For more information on the SunZia Transmission project, click HERE.
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