ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — SunZia is a $37 million investor-funded proposal to build two high voltage transmission lines that can transfer 3,000 megawatts of energy from renewable projects in New Mexico to western states. Without major transmission lines, New Mexico’s renewable energy assets – wind and solar power – will remain largely undeveloped.
If SunZia moves forward, New Mexico has much to gain. According to a study from the New Mexico State University, the construction of the transmission lines and the renewable energy projects associated with it could create upwards of 24,000 jobs over the next four years. This would mean $275 million in wages. Construction of associated renewable energy projects would create $1. 2 billion in worker pay. Annual state and local taxes paid during construction could approach $145 million. During project operations, NMSU estimates that annual economic activity would add another $17 million in payroll and $53 million in property taxes.
At a time when government payrolls are shrinking and economic growth is stagnant in New Mexico, a private sector job creator is welcome news.
In 2008, when we first started mapping out a possible route for the transmission lines, we knew we would have to find a reasonable and feasible route that recognized the needs of our state’s military assets. When the Bureau of Land Management began the process of determining the environmental impacts of the proposed transmission lines, it brought 14 other entities to the table, including White Sands Missile Range, Holloman Air Force Base, Fort Bliss and the Department of Defense.
At White Sands’ requests, the BLM twice delayed the process to study additional routing alternatives. Although this delay was time-consuming and costly, SunZia supported the additional review by BLM believing that we could find a resolution that was both fair and productive.
To accommodate the concerns of White Sands, we moved the northern route 30 miles north of the missile range. The current 515-mile proposed route does not sit on one square foot of White Sands’ 2.2 million acres nor any other military installation in New Mexico. The carefully and thoughtfully designed route would run along state-, BLM- and privately-owned land.
The Department of Defense, which has made homegrown, clean energy development a national security priority, signed off on this proposed route – twice. But unfortunately, opposition still exists and the project is awaiting final approval. I am, however, encouraged by recent developments and believe that the BLM has diligently considered the competing priorities and uses of this land, and has worked with stakeholders to find a compromise route that minimizes impacts on other land users.
We believe central New Mexico can generate 10,000 megawatts annually from wind power, while another 4,000 megawatts of solar power could be developed in the I-10 corridor in southwestern New Mexico.
With SunZia built, both of these clean energy resources can achieve the access to western markets it currently lacks. Jobs would be created. Tax revenue would be generated. And New Mexico could set the bar for what a clean-energy economy could and should look like.
The process so far has been long and expensive. But the result is a carefully designed route that addresses the concerns of the stakeholders while ensuring access to the state’s clean energy resources.
It is time to move forward.