Renewable energy transmission project in New Mexico to boost ‘clean power’ exports

Source: By Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus • Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2021

Federal land managers moved forward with a transmission project that could bring renewable electricity from rural New Mexico to markets in Arizona.

The SunZia Southwest Transmission Project would originate in Torrance County south of Albuquerque and would transport up to 4,500 megawatts (MW) of energy west into Arizona, terminating in Pinal County, Arizona south of Phoenix.

The line was intended to bolster renewable energy resources, allowing power generated in New Mexico to be sold in Arizona.

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The federal Bureau of Land Management published a notice of its intent to develop an environmental impact statement (EIS) ahead of granting a permit for the project on June 4, which would see the agency host three virtual hearings to solicit comments from stakeholders.

“We are pleased to give the public an opportunity to provide their input on this project,” said acting BLM New Mexico Associate State Director Melanie Barnes. “We invite all interested parties to attend the virtual public scoping meetings to learn about the project and provide comment.”

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The meetings were scheduled for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. June 22, and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 23 and 24.

Those interested were asked to register on the BLM’s project website.

Written comments could be submitted by July 6 verbally by calling a hotline at 1-888-959-2510 or on the BLM’s project website or by mail to the BLM’s New Mexico State Office: Attention: SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, 301 Dinosaur Trail, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87508.

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Why transmission is needed amid energy transition

In 2019, the Energy Transition Act was passed by the New Mexico Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, creating a goal of 100 percent carbon-free energy in the State by 2045.

While New Mexico works toward that goal, it could also support the clean energy goals of other states, per a 2020 report from the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA).

But to do that, the state needs better transmission to move renewable power out of New Mexico.

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Adding transmission infrastructure could increase New Mexico’s renewable energy capacity from 2,500 MW at the end of 2019 to up to 11,500 MW by 2030 – enough to meet the state’s goals and increase its clean energy exports.

That could add 3,700 jobs, the report read, during construction through 2032 and up to 800 new, permanent jobs.

Between 2021 and 2032, such infrastructure would bring $11 billion in investments to the state, read the report, which would also benefit reliability of the electrical grid and power supply while benefiting local economies.

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“The economic benefits attributed to New Mexico from the transmission and renewable additions are substantial,” the report read. “The investments will also have cascading effects in multiple areas.”

In addition to the SunZia project, which it expected to go online in 2023, RETA identified the under-construction Western Spirit transmission line owned by Pattern Energy as a major boost that could move 800 MW through the state and to export markets by the end of 2021.

“New Mexicans have much to take pride in regarding its natural resources. Our state’s beauty is world renowned, and we have a unique opportunity to become a nationwide leader in renewable energy generation,” the report read.

“Now is the time to invest in the transmission infrastructure needed to deliver our renewable energy for in-state usage and export to nearby states that will benefit our state for decades to come.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.