By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Supporters and opponents of the proposed 530-mile-long SunZia power-line across southern Arizona and central New Mexico are reading the new environmental impact statement (EIS) released by the Bureau of Land Management. The EIS checks off benefits and impacts for the $530M to $1.1B project.
Top benefits include the lineâ€™s ability to serve more than 750K homes, between 2,500 and 3,000 construction jobs and the capacity to carry renewable energy from distant projects to power-hungry population centers. Potential impacts for the projectâ€™s route from Corona, N.M. to Eloy, Ariz., are generating concerns from residents along its route through seven New Mexico and four Arizona counties.
Power lines are strung on an estimated 4,200 10-story tall, 90-foot wide steel lace towers will meander through valleys, flood plains, into forests and tromp on cultural resource sites. The BLMâ€™s EIS finds that impacts from construction and long-term presence can be mitigated by imposing conditions during construction and operation.
This conclusion is supported by area economic development interests who see the power-line providing a missing link needed for isolated wind and solar power facilities to get their megawatts to market. Solar projects in Cochise County have been shelved because thereâ€™s no way to connect power generated to the power grid. Solar arrays cannot bear the cost of connecting transmission lines. This creates the major need for SunZia.
Residents in southern Arizona disagree, particularly those in the Cascabel, Winkelman and Redington Pass areas along the route. Concern over construction silt clogging stream courses is one of several major concerns to the locals. With towers spaced at eight per mile, the preferred route impacts bird migratory routes, increases risk of wild fireâ€”particularly during constructionâ€”and puts roads into now publicly inaccessible areas. Pima County officials, reports AZStarNet, are concerned about its swath through the middle of the 34K acre A7 Ranch, an open space preserve partially owned by the jurisdiction.
SunZia is backed by a power-group: Salt River Project and Tucson Electric Power, along with private entities Shell Wind Energy, Southwestern Power Group, and Tristate Generation. Although the project has a mega price tag and millions in upfront permitting costs, there are no buyers booked for the power it will carry. The enterprise expects to start the two-year construction program in 2014.