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Peter Else: SunZia's transmission line plan would harm San Pedro River ecosystem, bird routes
Tucson Opinion

Peter Else: SunZia's transmission line plan would harm San Pedro River ecosystem, bird routes

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

If you were asked to develop a renewable energy transmission plan that would maximize damage to our last remaining major wildlife corridors in the desert Southwest, the SunZia project would definitely be your design concept. As a privately held electrical corridor proposal, SunZia checks off all the boxes for maximizing impacts:

It is three times longer than necessary to connect wind resources in central New Mexico to portions of the existing electrical grid where transmission capacity is being freed up with the retirement of coal-fired generating plants. Three times the length of the corridor means three times the impacts to the very landscapes we are trying to protect by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Other transmission projects have beaten SunZia in the race to obtain permits, because they minimized the distance and impacts of tying renewable energy to the Western Electrical Grid.

By proposing routes that cross and then parallel two desert rivers (Rio Grande and San Pedro), SunZia would dramatically degrade not one, but both of the major avian migration flyways in the affected region of New Mexico and Arizona. The bird-kill reputation of wind energy generation is compounded by maximizing bird-kills associated with multiple extra-high-voltage transmission lines located on a poorly selected transmission route.

Rather than developing a basic design concept that minimizes permanent impacts, SunZia focuses on a scheme to control profits from the largest new transmission proposal currently seeking approvals in our region. It is literally based on grabbing land and controlling power, and this new corridor would attract additional infrastructure impacts in the future.

With the SunZia proposal now entering its third federal permit process and thirteenth year of tweaking their plan in the futile attempt to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, it’s time for our government to cut its losses. It’s one thing for a private company to throw money at a poorly conceived route for moving renewable energy, but planning this particular boondoggle has now also tied up governmental and public resources for well over a decade, and still counting.

Don’t allow a private company to destroy our last remaining desert river ecosystems. Stop this nonsense now by contacting members of Arizona’s congressional delegation and the Bureau of Land Management.

Before the current comment deadline of July 6, submit a vocal statement to the bureau at 1-888-959-2510, and demand that “project abandonment” be formally analyzed as an alternative in SunZia’s latest environmental impact process.

Also, urge your congressional representative to request denial of SunZia’s permits by the Department of Interior, so that our government can focus instead on renewable energy transmission proposals that are based on saving our last desert rivers, not destroying them.

Peter Else is chairperson of the Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance. As a volunteer conservation advocate, he has been researching and responding to the SunZia transmission proposal since 2009.


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