Brian McCowan, Zondits staff, 7/11/2023
Zondits has published several articles regarding the difficulty of expanding U.S. electrical transmission and distribution networks to facilitate the rapid growth of large-scale solar and wind renewable energy projects. However, some encouraging news is coming out of the American Southwest.
The Associated Press and multiple Southwest U.S. news outlets are reporting that the Department of the Interior has decided to greenlight the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project for the express purpose of transporting wind and solar-generated electricity from New Mexico to neighboring regions.
Two 500-kilovolt transmission lines will span over 500 miles across state, federal, and private lands. It is projected to deliver 4,500 megawatts of mostly wind-generated power to industrial facilities and population centers in Arizona and California. According to the Pattern Energy Group, the lead developer of the SunZia Transmission Project, it will be the country’s largest clean energy infrastructure project to date.
The project is partially funded through the Biden Administration’s Investing in America agenda which leverages private funding with funds made available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and other jobs programs.
While the approval is seen as good news, it is also a reminder of the difficulty of siting major transmission lines. The project has been in planning stages for over 10 years. States, cities, towns, Native American Tribes, and private landowners were all involved in land use negotiations. Beginning in 2009 it was evaluated through the National Environmental Policy Act over a 6-year period. Due largely to concerns raised by The U.S. Defense Department, the proposed path of the transmission lines was modified in 2021. The Bureau of Land Management reviewed the new route and recently gave final approval to break ground.
In a May 18 press release, Hunter Armistead, CEO of Pattern Energy stated, “This is a historic day for the advancement of America’s clean energy goals as SunZia receives its major federal routing permit, clearing the way to bring online enough renewable power for 3 million Americans. We’re proud that SunZia is the culmination of over a decade of collaboration with communities, residents, landowners, environmental groups, wildlife organizations, and federal agencies.”
The company projects that over 2,000 workers will be engaged and that the project will be completed before the end of 2026.
Pattern Energy press release: Pattern Receives Route Approval for SunZia Transmission Project
KTAR News article: US approves renewable energy project that runs through Arizona