If a public-input session held last week is any indication, power transmission lines are not welcome neighbors, even if the electricity they carry is generated by renewable resources.
The Bureau of Land Management held its 14th public-input session on April 29 regarding the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project. The meeting was at the Holiday Inn on South Palo Verde Road.
SunZia is a proposed 460-mile, high-capacity 500-kilovolt transmission line across New Mexico and Arizona.
It would tap into wind energy generated in New Mexico as well as solar energy generated in New Mexico and Arizona, said Ian Calkins, a project spokesman.
And it would present the opportunity for several substations to set up along the way to tap into the energy as well, he said.
SunZia is composed of Southwestern Power Group - which is taking the lead in the development and permitting process - Shell WindEnergy, Tucson Electric Power Co., Salt River Project, Energy Capital Partners and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
"We're enthusiastic about this project because it helps to enable the goal of accessing renewable energy in the Southwest," Calkins said.
Arizona mandates that utilities generate at least 15 percent of their energy through renewable resources by 2025. In New Mexico, the mandate is 20 percent by 2020.
But the proposed routes have people buzzing.
One possibility is to run the line through the San Pedro River Valley and up the Avra Valley. That plan isn't sitting well with people in Picture Rocks, who defeated a similar proposal about a decade ago, Picture Rocks resident Albert Lannon said in an interview.
The proposed route runs through a major wildlife mitigation corridor, he said.
"My general feeling is the Avra Valley is the dumping ground for anything that anybody else doesn't want in their backyard," he said.
At the public input meeting last week, at least 100 members of the public filtered through a meeting room over the course of three hours, reviewing numerous BLM display boards that showed proposed routes, maps, power-line varieties and timelines.
Several people said they are opposed to the proposed routes. Many said it makes the most sense for such a line to follow Interstate 10 and not disturb nature corridors.
"I'd like to see them follow the I-10 corridor. Seems like a no-brainer. It's got to be less money," said Betty Wagner, who drove from Phoenix with her husband Tom for the forum. The couple live part-time in Aravaipa.
"It's not going to benefit Arizona at all. It's only going to benefit California."
She dismissed as "greenwash" the notion the project is environmentally friendly because of the wind and solar energy it will deliver, because of the destruction the power line would bring.
Cascabel resident Laura Lipsyn challenged Calkins on the need to import renewable energy into Arizona.
"It doesn't make sense that they have to pull it from a different source," she said. "Why can't our own state produce its own energy? Why ruin a beautiful environmental area? It makes no sense to me."
Cascabel is about 30 miles north of Benson.
BLM project manager Adrian Garcia said finding a good location for the line is proving difficult.
The city of Tucson is worried about placing unsightly power lines along I-10 when it's trying to revitalize downtown, he said.
The military doesn't like running the line south of Tucson either, Garcia said.
Meanwhile, he said, wind energy developers in New Mexico are waiting to build their electricity generation stations until after they know whether a line to deliver the electricity is going to happen.
"It's a chicken-or-the-egg thing," Garcia said.
BLM project timeline
Summer 2009-present: Public-input sessions.
Winter 2010: Draft Environmental Impact Statement, followed by 90-day public-review period.
Fall 2011: Final Environmental Impact Statement, followed by 30-day public-review period.
Spring 2012: Record of decision, issue right- of-way permit.
2013: Construction and operation.
Want to comment?
Go online to www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/more/lands_realty.html to leave your comments about the SunZia project.
Contact reporter Shelley Shelton at email@example.com or 807-8464.