N.M. governor urges Interior to steer multistate line away from missile range

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 28, 2014

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has joined those opposed to routing a multistate transmission line project near an Army missile testing range, imploring Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to find another route or require the project proponents to bury the section of the line near the range.

Martinez this week sent a two-page letter to Jewell and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arguing that the proposed route for the 515-mile-long SunZia Southwest Transmission Line project will compromise the mission of the White Sands Missile Range in eastern New Mexico.The Bureau of Land Management last year released a final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the New Mexico-to-Arizona SunZia power-line project with a so-called preferred alternative that proposes routing the line across a roughly 35-mile section just north of the missile range — the nation’s largest military installation, covering 3,200 square miles.The section of line at issue would not touch any of White Sands’ 2.2 million acres of withdrawn federal lands, but it would cross a section of restricted airspace referred to as the missile range’s Northern Extension Area. The Defense Department has strongly objected to this section of the proposed route, fearing it could interfere with training and weapons testing.”This planned route poses an unacceptable negative impact to critical test and evaluation missions at [White Sands],” Martinez wrote in her letter to Jewell and Hagel.Martinez urged Jewell to support a proposed DOD route that would take the line farther north and out of the boundaries of the missile range’s Northern Extension Area, or require the project proponents — Phoenix-based SunZia Transmission LLC — to bury the section of the line that crosses the Northern Extension Area.

Either alternative would “support the project’s objectives and [White Sands'] mission,” she wrote. “I strongly support either one of these alternatives.”

Ian Calkins, a spokesman for SunZia Transmission, could not be reached for comment in time for publication. But Calkins has said that burying the line would be technologically and economically infeasible and that the company, BLM and DOD continue to work toward finding a solution.

Martinez’s letter is the latest development in the increasingly political debate over siting the SunZia power line, which the Obama administration has made a top priority in large part because of the area’s potentially significant wind resources and the fact that wind farms will not be built without the ability to transport the electricity they produce to major load centers as far away as Los Angeles.

The Western Governors’ Association has estimated that southwest New Mexico and southeast Arizona, near the SunZia line, have the potential to produce as much as 10,000 megawatts of solar power. The WGA and the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority have estimated 11,000 MW of wind power capacity in central and eastern New Mexico alone.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last month wrote his own two-page letter to Hagel and Jewell asking DOD to work with the Interior Department “to find and deploy” a workable solution that “provides for the rapid construction” of the SunZia project. Reid wrote that DOD’s “siting clearinghouse” provision in the fiscal 2011 Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act calls for DOD to work out any siting conflicts for renewable energy projects and needed transmission line projects in a timely manner and, if not, to show documented proof that the project represents an unacceptable risk to national security (E&ENews PM, April 8).

To help find a resolution, DOD last year directed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory to study whether the proposed power line will interfere with the mission of the White Sands Missile Range and, if so, what operational changes the range could make to coexist with the power line.

To date, the results of the MIT study have not been released to the public.

DOD officials and representatives from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, however, briefed congressional staffers and the project proponents last month on the study results.

New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich (D), a big supporter of the SunZia project, said last month that the formal briefing revealed that the MIT study offers some “pragmatic solutions to allow SunZia and [the missile range] to mutually exist.” Officials with SunZia Transmission echoed those comments.

But Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), whose district includes the White Sands Missile Range, told reporters last month that the MIT study revealed that the SunZia line could harm the missile range and should be rerouted (E&ENews PM, March 11).

Martinez wrote in her letter to Jewell and Hagel that she, too, was briefed on the MIT study and, like Pearce, said that it “validates DOD concerns” about the SunZia project interfering with the missile range.

“My Administration fully supports our national goals regarding development of renewable energy, but not at the expense of military missions,” she wrote.

She added that her office in August submitted a “Consistency Review” to the Interior Department regarding the SunZia project, which noted “several inconsistencies between the [final EIS] and our state’s plans, policies, and programs with regards to our support for military missions in New Mexico.” But to date, she wrote, “I have not received a response.”

“Secretary Jewell, I urgently ask for your support of an alternative which avoids a negative impact to [White Sands],” she added. “Secretary Hagel, please let me know how we can further demonstrate our support for [the missile range] — it is an invaluable resource to our nation and to our great State of New Mexico.”