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SunZia fights green energy requirement for transmission line

TUCSON, Ariz. — The group in charge of a proposed $2 billion transmission line that would carry electricity generated by wind and solar in New Mexico to Arizona and beyond is fighting against a requirement to guarantee it will put renewables on the line.

Opponents of the 515-mile-long SunZia Southwest Transmission Project want 50 percent of one of two lines to be set aside for renewable energy only, in an effort to guarantee the project’s promises, The Arizona Daily Star reports.

Peter Else, who opposes the lines through the mostly untouched San Pedro valley, said promoting a power line as serving renewables and using it to carry only fossil fuels would be “the ultimate sin.”

SunZia officials say such an order would violate federal law forbidding power lines from discriminating against energy suppliers.

“You can’t put a condition on that would require the applicant to violate federal statutes in order to comply with the condition,” SunZia Project Manager Tom Wray said.

The power-line proposal is slated to go before the Arizona Corporation Commission in Phoenix today, and commissioners are to consider the renewable requirement while weighing whether to grant a certificate authorizing construction. The renewable mandate was turned down in November by the commission’s Line Siting Committee, whose approval of power lines is also required.

The Line Citing Committee sided with SunZia, saying a renewables requirement could put off prospective investors. Instead the condition now says SunZia will use “its best efforts to secure transmission service contracts for renewable energy generation.”

The ACC certificate is one of the last major permits the project needs.

SunZia is one of seven pilot projects the Obama administration put on a fast track in hopes of boosting renewable energy development, mainly across the West. The projects cover a dozen states and span thousands of miles, from Wyoming to Oregon and south to Nevada and from central New Mexico to southern Arizona.

Opponents say Arizona won’t need SunZia’s energy, and that California is likely the target for New Mexico wind power. They suspect — and Sun Zia denies — that the owner consortium most likely will use the first line to transmit fossil fuel natural gas from an approved, still unbuilt natural gas power plant slated for Bowie in eastern Arizona. The Bowie plant will be developed by the Southwestern Power Group, a leading sponsor of the SunZia project.

Opponents also warn that an agreement SunZia made last year to bury five miles of its line north of White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico could prove expensive enough to make that leg of the line unfeasible.