SunZia transmission should not go through San Pedro Valley

The San Pedro River Valley in Arizona could be threatened by the proposed Sun Zia transmission line.

Photo by Cochise College.

The Wilderness Society supports responsible renewable energy and transmission development and every project has tradeoffs, but the proposed SunZia route in Arizona does not offer an acceptable tradeoff.

A final plan for the SunZia transmission project raises serious concerns about impacts to Arizona’s sensitive San Pedro Valley. Despite efforts to re-route the line to avoid important wildlife habitat, project developers and the BLM are continuing to move forward with a path that The Wilderness Society opposes.

Despite broader BLM efforts to guide development, SunZia’s final route has too many impacts.

Though the BLM is engaged in good work to find appropriate corridors for transmission lines across the west, the agency has proposed a final route for SunZia through Arizona’s San Pedro Valley, a sensitive area that should not be developed.

In spite of efforts from The Wilderness Society and other groups to re-route the line to avoid important wildlife habitat, the BLM and project developers are continuing to move forward with the San Pedro route.

The San Pedro Valley is inappropriate for large transmission projects.

Concerns regarding this type of development in the San Pedro Valley include:

  • runoff and sediment flowing into the San Pedro River
  • impacts to the region’s native and migratory birds and other wildlife – the San Pedro Valley is home to many different kinds of wildlife because the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts come together there, and the presence of mountains known as “Sky Islands” which act as connectors between the temperate Rocky Mountains and the semi-tropical Sierra Madres
  • and habitat fragmentation in a region that has had millions of dollars invested in conservation work to “mitigate” or offset impacts from other development
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service is also gathering public input on a potential National Wildlife Refuge in the San Pedro Valley

Other SunZia issues which should be addressed

The final plan for SunZia also includes an alternative southeastern Arizona route through the Aravaipa Canyon region.  The Wilderness Society also opposes this route, which would fragment the second largest roadless area in the two-state region.  In New Mexico, issues which should be addressed for the SunZia routes include the crossing of the Rio Grande River, which would impact migrating birds, and the intersection of several wilderness-quality areas.

Opportunities to improve transmission planning

The challenges with the SunZia routes highlight the importance of continuing to improve the process for planning and developing transmission lines. 

Fortunately, the BLM is engaged in good work to re-evaluate corridors for pipelines and powerlines across the west to better avoid sensitive natural areas and help aid renewable energy development.

President Obama also recently issued a Presidential Memorandum on improving transmission planning which includes many valuable tools to find better paths for projects and to offset impacts which can’t be avoided.  These efforts will help us reach our clean energy goals without sacrificing important wildlands and wildlife habitat.