The ongoing battle to stop the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project from being routed through either the San Pedro Valley or between the Aravaipa and Galiuro wildernesses has reached a critical point.
Department of Defense objections have halted the project until spring, providing time to demand corrections to a deeply flawed process.
SunZia would open the largest utility corridor in the Southwest and be nearly the largest transmission project in U.S. history.
The impact of the Bureau of Land Management’s preferred route through the San Pedro Valley would be profound. The project would cut a swath 400 to 1,000 feet wide through three ranches included in Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and must span Buehman Canyon, the only perennial stream on the east side of the Rincon and Santa Catalina Mountains.
In addition, the project would impair the testing capability of Fort Huachuca’s Buffalo Soldier Electronic Proving Ground. The fort strongly objected to SunZia’s routing, but the Defense Department’s clearinghouse overrode and silenced the fort — what it did to the White Sands Missile Range, which had to appeal to the undersecretary of defense to be heard.
The impact of SunZia’s alternative route through the Aravaipa watershed would be equally great, bisecting the state’s second largest unfragmented region. However, despite these impacts, the BLM has never seriously compared SunZia with New Mexico’s other transmission projects, including the Southline, which parallels SunZia for much of its length while avoiding the San Pedro watershed. Neither did the BLM consider the existing high-voltage corridor to the north that the High Plains Express proposal follows.
Initially, SunZia was conceived to bring fossil fuel-generated electricity from Bowie to California and other markets, and now claims it will deliver primarily wind-generated electricity from central New Mexico to California. However, no California utility has expressed interest in this power, and it is not needed to meet future needs or renewable energy standards. The project is instead aimed at giving New Mexico energy speculators the chance to profit from the California market. Intense competition makes this very risky, however.
SunZia’s environmental impact statement contains what I believe is a fictionalized energy development scenario and does not disclose the only feasibility study for the project, indicating it is not economically viable as evaluated. It ignores the applicant’s statement to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the Bowie plant and other natural gas facilities would use SunZia, instead substituting renewable energy facilities for them. Neither does it analyze overall regional power needs and how they would influence the project’s use. The resulting analysis of cumulative impacts, climate effects and job benefits is unrealistic.
What’s in this for Arizona? The degradation of a premier environmental treasure and increased competition with our own growing solar energy development. And if that’s not enough, this line isn’t even intended for us: Only California utilities can buy enough power to support the project, and the project goes only halfway across our state.
Who will pay for the other half? You will. To access that power, California utilities will need the $400 million of new transmission capacity we’re building from Central Arizona to Yuma to support our own growth and solar development. That’s a pretty hefty subsidy to SunZia.
The integrity of this process can only be preserved by requiring the BLM to evaluate what is likely to happen, not what the applicant wants us to believe. An environmental impact statement must not be reduced to a corporate advertising platform. Reps. Ron Barber and Ann Kirkpatrick have asked that the BLM consider the best available science.