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PRC rejects SunZia location permits

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The SunZia Southwest Transmission Project will reapply for state location permits to run high-voltage transmission lines through New Mexico following the Public Regulation Commission’s rejection of its current application.

The commission voted 4-0 on Wednesday to reject the permits without prejudice, meaning project leaders can reapply for approval if they provide more detailed information on the precise location of SunZia’s two high-voltage lines. The 320-mile lines would run from central New Mexico to Arizona.

Commissioner Pat Lyons recused himself from the vote because of his personal friendship with SunZia project manager Tom Wray. But the remaining commissioners accepted a hearing examiner’s conclusion that more precise information is needed to determine the project’s environmental impact in the communities it traverses.

“We approved the 200-foot right of ways around the transmission lines that SunZia requested, but we dismissed the application for location permits because there’s not enough accurate information about where they will actually be,” said Commissioner Sandy Jones. “We dismissed it without prejudice, so SunZia can make modifications and get another hearing.”

Project leaders do plan to reapply, either later this year or in early 2019, Tom Wray told the Journal.

“We’re reviewing the order now, and we will definitely refile our reapplication,” Wray said. “This is one of the biggest transmission projects in a very long time in New Mexico, and it’s complex. We’re disappointed in the PRC’s decision, but we appreciate that they gave us the opportunity to refile without prejudice, and we’ll take them up on that.”

By waiting until year-end, SunZia will have the results of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management review of proposed changes to line location on some private properties that landowners had requested. The BLM should also have completed its review of SunZia’s plan of development, which is a detailed construction outline of the project, tower-by-tower and segment-by-segment, Wray said.

“We want those BLM studies to run their course before we reapply so those things don’t interfere with the commission’s ability assess our application,” Wray said. “When we do reapply, we’ll try to provide more information, probably with more detailed maps.”

Commissioners also want more information on environmental mitigation measures at SunZia’s planned Rio Grande crossing at Escondida, north of Socorro, to address community concerns about the project’s impact on migratory birds. And they prefer that SunZia conclude negotiations with all landowners about crossing over private property before reapplying for location permits, Jones said.