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Opponents: transmission line ‘unjust,’ ‘offensive’

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The Valencia County Commission cited a litany of concerns about the Western Spirit Transmission Line after voting Jan. 15 to oppose the project.

Environmental impacts are high on the list, such as potential disruption of pristine landscapes, dangers to migratory birds and other wildlife, and possible health effects from electromagnetic radiation. Commissioners also fear a drop in tourism-related income and local property values.

In addition, the commission says the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority is violating the state constitution’s anti-donation clause by planning to turn the line over to Public Service Company of New Mexico after it’s built. And it calls RETA’s possible use of eminent domain to obtain rights of way on private land an “abuse of power” that tramples on citizens’ rights.

Commissioners took particular offense, however, at an alleged assertion by Western Spirit developers that Valencia County offers the “path of least resistance” for building the 150-mile transmission line. The commission interpreted that to mean the county’s population is generally low income and rural, making people there less likely to resist the Western Spirit project than more wealthy, urban communities.

County Manager Danny Monette called that “offensive and unacceptable” in a letter to RETA. “The line is socially unjust,” he said.

RETA Executive Director Fernando Martínez said most of the commission’s concerns are based on “misinformation.”

“While the phrase ‘path of least resistance’ was an unfortunate choice of words, those words have been taken out of context and were not a reference to a particular ‘political path’ or intended to insult anyone,” Martínez said in a response letter to the county. “Rather, the phrase was used to refer to the Western Spirit project’s efforts to plan routing to traverse parcels owned by landowners supportive of the project, thus avoiding resistant landowners.”

Martínez also said eminent domain is a “last resort” that RETA has not used. And he said RETA is not turning the transmission line over to PNM, but selling it to the utility at “fair market value.”

The line is estimated to cost at least $360 million, and possibly up to $400 million, Martínez said.

PNM will pay $285 million up front to acquire Western Spirit. It will pay back the remaining costs to the builder, Pattern Development, through discounted use of the line by Pattern to transport electricity from wind farms in central New Mexico to Western markets.

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