At first view, the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, which proposes to run two 500 kilovolt lines from central New Mexico to Eloy appears to be the sort of scheme that would have environmentalists cheering. Green energy to California … What could be wrong with that?
As it turns out? Plenty!
The SunZia Project is green only in one sense: Some of the energy projected to be transmitted may be derived from wind and solar. However, it will almost certainly facilitate nonrenewable energy development since its owners are poised to develop a fossil-fuel plant in Bowie.
Remarkably, the environment most affected by these lines is in neither New Mexico nor California but right here in Southern Arizona.
This, undoubtedly, was not what the California legislature had in mind when it passed SB 2 (1X), requiring that the state's energy come from a minimum of 33 percent green sources by the year 2020. However, we in Arizona can't expect the California legislature to decline the energy based on the harm it does here.
That's our job.
What are the environmental dangers the SunZia transmission-line project poses? Were the lines strung along the I-10 corridor, they would not likely degrade the environment for Arizona's native animals, birds, fish and plants.
However, SunZia's proposed path takes it through one of Southern Arizona's most pristine and important native habitat: the lower San Pedro River Valley.
What makes this area so important?
Before settlement of the West, migratory birds had numerous routes available to them. Many have been lost to urbanization, many to aquifer depletion. The San Pedro is now the principal migratory route for more than 4 million birds traveling from Central America to the northwestern United States and Canada.
Within the lower San Pedro, four different major ecoregions converge - Sonoran Desert, Chihuahuan Desert, Madrean and Arizona Mountains, creating the richest species diversity in the U.S.
Saguaros nurse beneath junipers; bears feed with desert tortoises; and Southwestern willow flycatchers share the rich mesquite bosque with grey hawks.
Should the San Pedro River or other nearby valleys such as Aravaipa be degraded, there is no other similarly sized undisturbed area to replace it.
In fact, the San Pedro River Valley and the surrounding region is the second largest unfragmented landscape in Arizona. (The Grand Canyon is the first.)
When you add together the roads that must be constructed to build and service the towers, the lines strung from tower to tower that would affect bird flight, the potential for increased fire when towers are struck by lightning, and the expansion of this corridor with ever more utilities, the loss could be catastrophic. And for what?
Rather than transmit energy from New Mexico, green energy could be produced in Western Arizona, close to the California border, with a minimum of environmental degradation.
I urge everyone to write the Bureau of Land Management, Secretary of Interior Salazar and your elected officials to protect the wonders of our state before we lose them to this unnecessary project.
SHARE YOUR VIEWS
• Adrian Garcia, BLM, P.O. Box 27115, Santa Fe, NM 87501,
• Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20240, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Vogel lives in Cascabel, along the San Pedro River, where she writes fiction and teaches online writing courses. She and Norm Meader are members of the Cascabel Working Group. Email: email@example.com