Largest wind project in hemisphere approved for New Mexico, but transmission tie in limbo

Source: By Gavin Bade, Utility Dive • Posted: Monday, October 15, 2018

  • The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) last week unanimously approved what could be the largest wind farm in the Western Hemisphere, but a key transmission line meant to serve it remains in limbo.
  • In a 4-0 vote Oct. 5, the PRC approved Pattern Energy’s 2.2 GW Corona Wind Project, continuing a recent boom for the resource in New Mexico. But last month, the commission also rejected a 520-mile transmission line proposal from developer SunZia that would carry Corona’s power to California markets.
  • The PRC denied SunZia’s proposal “without prejudice,” allowing the developer to resubmit its application. Pattern officials said Thursday they would work with SunZia on its next proposal, but declined to say whether they would build the Corona project if the transmission line is not constructed.

The Corona project solidifies New Mexico’s emerging role as a wind energy leader and could help California meet its 100% renewable energy target — if the power can get there.

The developer pinned its hopes on the long-debated SunZia Southwest Transmission project, proposed in 2008. Arizona regulators approved the line in a split vote in 2016, but New Mexico officials turned SunZia’s application back at the beginning of September, saying it was incomplete.

Approval of the Corona wind farm was separate from the SunZia application because developers do not need to show they have a means to deliver the power when proposing new generation projects.

Even so, the SunZia line remains the “main path” to get Corona’s power to market, Pattern said in a release, and company officials declined to tell Utility Dive whether they would build the project without the cross-state transmission.

“We are pleased to be working with the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project Team and are collaborating with them on the resubmittal of the application to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission,” a Pattern spokesperson said via email. “The Teams are working to ensure that all concerns raised by the PRC have been addressed so the project can move forward and bring much needed economic development opportunities to New Mexico.”

If constructed, the Corona project would make New Mexico a wind leader. Last year, the state added 570 MW of wind, a 51% increase over the 1.1 GW of wind capacity it had at the end of 2016. That’s a faster growth rate than any other state, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Top image credit: Depositphotos

Brief

By

Published

Feb. 5, 2016

Dive Brief:

  • The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) voted 3-2 on Thursday to approve construction of the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project even though it will traverse the environmentally sensitive San Pedro River Valley. The line will deliver high-value New Mexico wind and Arizona solar to cities in California and Arizona
  • Commissioners Andy Tobin, Bob Stump, and Bob Burns agreed the benefits of the 515 mile, $2 billion project outweigh arguments that the two 500-kilovolt alternating current (AC) lines with a carrying capacity of 3,000 MW could be used to deliver fossil fuel-generated power and could do harm to the river valley.
  • The 10-year effort by SunZia backers to secure permits now moves to New Mexico, where the line would originate. Global renewables developer SunEdison has committed to use half the line’s capacity to deliver power from its planned Gallo Wind Project in New Mexico to off-takers in Arizona and California.

Dive Insight:

Part of the reason opponents fear the line will ultimately be used to transport fossil fuel-generated power is that the project is being built by a consortium that includes Southwestern Power Group II, a natural gas plant developer, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a developer of coal, natural gas, wind, and solar plants.

Shell Wind Energy and Arizona utilities Salt River Project and Tucson Electric Power are also part of the consortium.

Activists are also concerned about the line’s proximity to a natural gas power plant planned by the Southwestern Power Group.

ACC Chair Doug Little and Commissioner Tom Forese opposed the transmission line approval, along with environmentalists who accept the need for new transmission but believe the route selected by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fails to balance the need to deliver renewables with “unacceptable impacts” to the environment.

In their decision, the three affirming ACC commissioners decided the project strikes the appropriate balance between ecological protection and the need for more reneawble generation. Commissioner Burns argued it will reduce water use for power generation in Arizona, a critical issue in the drought-strapped Southwest.

Proposed route for the SunZia line