SunZia Transmission Project Gets Go Ahead

Approval of the SunZia transmission project opens the way for renewables development in the US southwest.
Published: Tue 10 Feb 2015

As much as 3,000MW of wind and solar energy is expected to be enabled in the desert southwest of the United States by the newly approved SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, according to estimates.

With its approval, the US$2 billion project, one of six priority projects of the Obama Administration’s Rapid Response Team for Transmission, construction is now scheduled to start in 2018 and to become operational in late-2020.

“The SunZia Project will help unlock the abundant renewable energy resources in the Southwest, creating jobs and bringing reliable, sustainable power to a growing corner of our country,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, whose department gave the approval.

Over 6,000 new jobs are anticipated during construction and once online there will be over 100 permanent jobs. New renewable energy generation projects should have the potential to create an additional 40,000 construction and operations jobs.

SunZia project

The project will construct, operate and maintain two parallel 500kV transmission lines and ancillary facilities located on federal, state and private lands between the proposed SunZia East Substation in Lincoln County, New Mexico, and the existing Pinal Central Substation in Pinal County, Arizona, a distance of about 830km (515 miles).

There were concerns that the project could impact national security due to its proximity to White Sands Missile Range. However, these were alleviated with mitigation measures to protect military capabilities at the range including burial of three segments totaling approximately 8km (5 miles) in Socorro and Torrance counties. [Engerati-SunZia Transmission Line Could Be Approved Soon]

The route of the transmission lines also avoids major population centres and cultural sites, and parallels existing power lines, highways and pipelines where possible. However, state and local permits and rights-of-way from private and state landowners must still be secured before construction can begin.

The project is aimed to enable development of renewable energies in New Mexico and Arizona that cannot currently access the Western grid. The 3,000MW would provide sustainable power for more than one million homes while avoiding 4.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year – the equivalent of taking 890,000 cars off US highways

Approval follows an extensive public process initiated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2009.

Priority US transmission projects

The Interagency Rapid Response Team for Transmission was formed in 2011 to improve the review and permitting of transmission projects.

The Rapid Response Team’s other priority projects are:

  • The Boardman to Hemingway 480km (300-mile) line powering Oregon and Idaho, proposed by Idaho Power. The draft environmental impact statement is currently under review. In-service date is currently estimated at 2020 or later.

  • Gateway West Project to bring 1,850km (1,150 miles) of new transmission across Wyoming and Idaho, jointly proposed by Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power. It is anticipated that line segments will be completed in phases between 2019 and 2024.

  • Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse line to power to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Construction is well under way with completion expected later in 2015.

  • Susquehanna to Roseland line to bring new transmission to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, proposed by PPL Electric Utilities and Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G). Construction is well under way and the 230km (145-mile) line is expected to be in service around mid-year.

  • Transwest Express to transmit renewable power from Wyoming to Utah and Nevada, proposed by TransWest Express LLC. Construction of the 1,170km (725-mile) line is expected to start this year.

A seventh project, Portland General Electric’s proposed Cascade Crossing line in Oregon, was cancelled after another option was identified.