By Tony Davis for Arizona Daily Star
The $2B, 515-mile-long SunZia power line project got a big boost Wednesday from the Arizona Corporation Commission, which voted 3-2 to approve its construction in this state.
The project involves two power lines, with transmission towers standing an average of 135 feet tall, that would go from central New Mexico into Southern Arizona near Bowie and Willcox before climbing north through the lower San Pedro River Valley, about two to five miles west of the river itself.
Commissioners who voted for the project said its reputed benefits for renewable energy either outweigh negative impacts, or that those impacts can be effectively controlled. The supporters were commission newcomer Andy Tobin and commissioners Bob Stump and Bob Burns.
Opponents said they didn’t feel Arizona would benefit much from the power lines, at least not nearly as much as New Mexico will. They also felt the environmental impacts could be very serious, since they involve the lower San Pedro Valley, by all accounts one of Arizona and the Southwest’s premier biological hot spots. “No” votes were cast by Commission Chairman Doug Little and Commissioner Tom Forese.
The vote by the all-Republican commission grants the power line project a certificate that essentially says it will be economically beneficial while balancing those benefits with environmental impacts — a subject that brought a huge amount of discussion and dissent.
Ian Calkins, a spokesman for project developer SunZia Transmission LLC, said the commission’s vote is a “significant milestone in the development of critical electric infrastructure in the Southwest United States.”
Wednesday’s vote followed two days of sometimes highly emotional, sometimes very detailed comments for and against the line by San Pedro Valley residents, SunZia officials, elected officials, environmentalists and a host of other speakers.
The 10-year conflict over SunZia now moves to New Mexico, from which the lines would start in Lincoln County. New Mexico’s Public Regulatory Commission must approve a formal permit for the line, following a public hearing.
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