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Overcoming Military Concerns, SunZia Project Expects to Bring 43K Clean Energy Jobs to the West

SunZia Transmission Line

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The SunZia Transmission Line project, which will help generate wind and solar energy for western states, will move forward after negotiations and compromise from high ranking officials.  Hurdles remain — such as an environmental impact analysis — but the project could be in service as early as 2018.  

The news is welcome for workers. A study by the Universities of New Mexico and Arizona predicts the project will create a total of 43,000 construction jobs.

In New Mexico, where the project will generate an estimated 18,000 construction jobs, members of the GOP fought to keep development at bay.  But the editorial board of the Santa Fe New Mexican is thrilled about its potential realization:

The line, stretching across Southern New Mexico, almost didn’t happen. The U.S. Department of Defense was concerned it would interfere with military missions from nearby White Sands Missile Range. That opposition nearly stalled the project, especially as such figures as Gov. Susana Martinez and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, both Republicans, opposed any project that might impact defense.

However, Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich worked diligently to forge a compromise that would safeguard the military mission but also open New Mexico to the possibility of being the site of a new energy line. Heinrich announced earlier this month that the 515-mile transmission line has a “high probability” of being built across New Mexico and Arizona. Heinrich’s hard work behind the scenes for jobs and sustainability deserves recognition. He refused to give up.

The compromise occurred because SunZia agreed to bury sections of its transmission line, despite an increase in the project’s cost. And it’s not cheap in the first place, with initial estimates for line construction at $1.2 billion. Because the project remains alive, so do the prospects of thousands of construction jobs.

Other “shovel ready” projects may be making more headlines, but this clean energy effort is no slouch. It creates jobs and provides power to America’s southwest region while helping a burgeoning industry move forward.  As the Santa Fe New Mexican notes, SunZia is a sign that the economics of clean energy are viable:

Other opposition remains in Arizona, where skeptics do not believe the project is feasible. Critics say it can’t happen unless and until California utilities commit to buying blocks of power for the project.

However, the SunZia officials say they believe the market exists to transport wind energy across the West — it’s a matter of economics. Private investors wouldn’t be ready to sink millions into building the infrastructure unless they believed they would make money. Without transmission lines, developers of large-scale renewable energy won’t be able to take their product to market. When that can happen, the country truly can begin depending on renewable sources of power. New Mexico should be a part of that transformation.


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