The SunZia Southwest Transmission Project just passed its final environmental review by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The proposed 515-mile transmission line could be used to carry any type of electricity, but project managers promise the focus will be on wind and solar resources of Arizona and New Mexico. The Record of Decision (ROD) carrying the approval is the culmination of a 7-year effort by SunZia.
The BLM’s ROD granted the sort of approval to the SunZia project that the developers of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline have been clamoring for. The comparisons between SunZia and Keystone XL are many, but it’s sort of an environmental rock-vs-scissors kind of thing. The wind energy transmission line project beats out an oil pipeline on jobs, energy distribution, and environmental concerns – and for once, the federal government actually kept score.
SunZia estimates their transmission line project will provide 6,200 temporary construction jobs over a four year span. The Keystone XL pipeline would create an estimated 3,900 jobs that would only last two years during construction. SunZia is also projected to stimulate hundreds of new long-term jobs, trumping Keystone XL’s 50 permanent positions. As far as which leaves a greater positive impact on the jobs market, SunZia is the clear winner.
SunZia is a U.S. energy project that will directly benefit U.S. energy consumers, bringing wind- and solar-generated energy to an area of the country where it is not readily available. Keystone XL is a project run by Calgary-based developer TransCanada, and the plans involve funneling Canadian tar sands for distribution on the global market. The U.S. could see some energy benefits from the pipeline, but they’re minimal in relation to the positive impact from the wind energy transmission line.
Perhaps the biggest difference is that the wind energy transmission lines SunZia plans to build can be buried underground without the kind of environmental risks that are posed by oil pipelines. The Department of Defense approved the SunZia project last spring after the developer agreed to bury several sections of the line. The DOD also asked for other adjustments to minimize impacts on the nearby White Sands missile range, which is close enough to the line’s route that the agency feared some operations might be hampered by the construction. SunZia altered their plans to please the DOD, and it worked.
Getting the go-ahead from the federal government isn’t the last hurdle for SunZia, though. The company still needs to get approval from state officials in Arizona and New Mexico before construction can begin. Those seem pretty likely to happen, though, as SunZia has already won sponsorship from the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority. Strong support also exists in Arizona, where renewable energy is getting more popular with time.
SunZia’s transmission line is anticipated to be operational by 2020.