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$2B SunZia Renewable Energy Project Takes One Step Forward, Then Pauses

Sources: U.S. Dept. of the Interior & Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined officials from the U.S. Army, the U.S. Congress, and the Bureau of Land Management Jan. 24 to announce the approval of the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, a major infrastructure project for the American West.

The $2B project will help enable future development of wind and solar energy from New Mexico and Arizona, providing renewable power to the growing desert Southwest region. The project is expected to create over 6,000 jobs during construction and support over 100 permanent jobs once online. The project will also open the door for new renewable energy generation projects with the potential to create an additional 40,000 construction and operations jobs.

The project will construct, operate and maintain two parallel 500-kilovolt transmission lines and ancillary facilities located on federal, state and private lands between the proposed SunZia East Substation in Lincoln County, New Mexico, and the existing Pinal Central Substation in Pinal County, Arizona – a distance of about 515 miles.

Approval of the project follows an extensive public process initiated by BLM in 2009 that included 14 cooperating federal and state agencies, three public scoring periods, 28 public meetings, and consultation with American Indian tribes and local governments (AZBEX, June 1, 2012; Sept. 17, 2013).

Approval suspended by GOP commissioner

New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has put the brakes on a $2B transmission project that would carry electricity generated by renewable resources in New Mexico and Arizona to markets across the West.

Dunn announced Jan. 28 that he was issuing a 60-day suspension after meeting with the developers. That delay will give his office more time to review the project before any further development affects state trust lands, he said. Dunn, a Republican, recently took over as land commissioner after a victory in the November election over incumbent Democrat Ray Powell.

SunZia spokesman Ian Calkins said that the developers plan to work with the land office to provide any needed information. SunZia is one of seven pilot projects the Obama administration put on a fast track in hopes of boosting renewable energy development, mainly across the West.

SunZia still has to get permits from the state and finalize financing before construction can begin. Calkins has said developers are hoping to have the transmission line operating in 2020.

Read more at U.S. Dept. or the Interior & Associated Press

AZBEX Note from the Publisher: Speaking with SunZia, they haven’t yet selected any of the Engineering or Construction team members yet, and won’t start those conversations until the permitting process is much closer to completion, most likely next year. I asked him if the recent departure of Arizona’s State Land Commissioner was a cause for concern, and he replied, “Everything’s a concern on a project this size.” The turnover in both state’s land departments has not negatively impacted their schedule at this point — they still plan to be operational in 2020.