Transmission development can have serious impacts on the land, but plays an important role in supporting wind and solar projects. Building only what we need and avoiding paths through sensitive wildlands and wildlife habitat will limit impacts to our public lands.
Size and Route
The SunZia transmission project proposed by Southwestern Power Group could include up to two major transmission lines crossing 460 miles in New Mexico and Arizona, including 215 miles on public lands. SunZia would have the capacity to carry up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity.
Many important lands fall within the potential transmission routes, including some areas that are inappropriate for such development – making a careful plan critical. Key places along the possible route are:
- Rio Grande River corridor in New Mexico, a critical migration route for many birds and other animals – SunZia should cross the Rio Grande River in an area where impacts will be lowest;
- San Pedro River Valley, an area with important wildlife habitat from both the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts – this is the route proposed by the BLM in the final plan. SunZia should not be built through this area; and
- Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona, a remote roadless area which is second in size to the Grand Canyon – this is an alternative route in the BLM’s final plan. SunZia should not be built through this area;
- Wilderness quality lands in New Mexico – SunZia should not be built through these areas
Potential energy benefits
New transmission lines in appropriate locations are important for advancing wind, solar and geothermal energy in the west. SunZia could provide benefits for renewable energy, but the project should not be built through Arizona’s sensitive San Pedro Valley and Aravaipa Canyon areas. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is leading the permitting process for the proposed project, and has selected the San Pedro Valley route in the final plan. Unless an alternate, acceptable route can be found in Arizona, the BLM should not approve the project application.
To protect wildlands and wildlife habitat, we recommend routes with the fewest impacts and support efforts to offset any unavoidable impacts for SunZia and other proposed projects. We urge the BLM and project developer to provide full information on the types of energy the line would carry. We support primarily transporting renewable energy and limiting increases in fossil fuel-based power.
Opportunities for better transmission planning
In addition, we advocate that the BLM continue to provide the public opportunities to engage in a thorough and transparent process. It is also important that BLM continue to invest in west-wide planning efforts like the re-evaluation of energy corridors which is currently underway, as well as the administration’s efforts to improve transmission planning. Permitting began in 2009 and the BLM published its final environmental study in June 2013.
- BLM website for SunZia: