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Editorial: SunZia project still a concern

The latest wrinkle in the $2.2 billion SunZia renewable energy transmission line project mostly seems to come down to money.

The proposed 515-mile high-voltage line would transmit up to 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy from central New Mexico wind farms to Arizona to be sold in Western markets.

After developers agreed to bury five miles of the line in the White Sands Missile Range’s Northern Extension, a call-up area used for missile tests and military exercises, a route was approved in January by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Department of Defense and the State Land Office.

But new Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn raised more concerns about the route’s effects on the range and on state lands. In June, SunZia officials offered to move about 80 percent of the 45-mile stretch in the call-up zone farther north in the hopes of reducing, or even eliminating, the amount of line they would have to bury. Burying the full five miles would add about $500 million in construction costs.

At the time, SunZia project manager Tom Wray said rerouting the line might offer the military a better arrangement, but he added the caveat that if the company would still have to bury five miles of line, it would just stick with the approved route. And that apparently is what the developers decided to do.

SunZia spokesman Ian Calkins recently told the Las Cruces Sun News that moving the alignment farther north would not benefit White Sands operations appreciably compared to the preferred route and it would add costs to the project – likely related to engineering and delays for jumping through BLM hoops for the new route.

SunZia has been a questionable project from its inception, despite its promise of delivering renewable energy. Protecting the ability of the military to do cutting-edge research and operations should take precedence over private interests trying to make bank some day down the road.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.