After months of debate, we were pleased to see a reasonable compromise reached on the proposed SunZia clean energy transmission line — a compromise that will not jeopardize the critical weapons testing being done at White Sands Missile Range.
SunZia, which plans to deliver renewable energy to markets in Arizona and California, had proposed stretching power lines over part of the northern extension call-up area of WSMR. But, that option could have reduced testing capacity at the range by 30 percent, according to WSMR commander Maj. Gen. Gwen Bingham.
Last week, a compromise was announced by the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Land Management that will require SunZia to bury the cable over five miles of the call-up area.
"To mitigate mission impacts ... I have determined that a total of five miles of the power line needs to be buried, in up to three separate segments, so that some low-altitude flight operations can occur," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
Officials at WSMR are unable to comment on the agreement until a report is released by the Department of Defense.
The new requirements will significantly increase the time and expense for SunZia, according to a report by the Cascabel Working Group — a public policy group in Arizona that has opposed the proposed route for the transmission line. The cable itself will have to be custom made, explained Norm Meader. And, doing the project in three segments will require much more cable than just the five miles worth.
Those are economic considerations the company will have to make based on what is best for the bottom line. And the initial response from SunZia spokesman Ian Caulkins was that it supported the compromise.
We recognize that renewable energy from solar and wind sources will play an ever-larger part in powering our nation, and we appreciate the significant role New Mexico will play in providing that renewable energy. We expect more projects like SunZia in the future, to get that energy to the population centers where it's needed.
At the same time, the critical missions being conducted at the missile range must be protected. We hope that the compromise reached in this case, and the lengthy process engaged in to arrive at that compromise, will ensure that mission of WSMR will always be protected.