SANTA FE — U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, trying to save a controversial $1.2 billion electricity line that would be built in New Mexico, has persuaded the Pentagon to commission a new study of the project by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory.
The Department of Defense and White Sands Missile Range oppose the preferred route of the 515-mile electricity line because they say it would interfere with training.
Heinrich, D-N.M., for months has been trying to find a way for the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project and the missile range to coexist.
Heinrich wrote to Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall two months ago, suggesting that the lab at the MIT might find a solution.
Heinrich said Friday that the Department of Defense had agreed to the study. He said Lincoln Laboratory will review White Sands Missile Range's objections to the preferred route and examine changes to test protocols that would allow defense training missions to continue alongside the transmission line.
"Lincoln Laboratory has a long history of creating innovative solutions to complex problems involving our nation's radar systems and air- and missile-defense technology. I commend the DOD for pursuing this pragmatic approach to identify measures that would allow for both the missions at White Sands to continue and for the construction of the SunZia transmission line," Heinrich said. SunZia's preferred route has faced opposition from U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs. Pearce said he suggested to the company as far back as 2010 that it realign its project so as not impede on the northern extension of the missile range.
Tom Wray, SunZia's project manager, has said the company's power lines would not interfere with White Sands' missions or weaken national defense. SunZia has offered to reduce the size of its lines in the area near White Sands.Wray said the company could not reconfigure the transmission line's route because of the enormous expense that would involve, including another environmental study.He said SunZia would have to kill the project if its preferred route is rejected by the Bureau of Land Management.
The SunZia transmission line would deliver wind and solar energy generated in New Mexico to population centers in the West.
Without access to those markets, New Mexico's abundant renewable energy resources will remain isolated and largely untapped, Heinrich said in a statement.
SunZia bills its project as enormous job creator for New Mexico and Arizona.
It cites studies by New Mexico State University and the University of Arizona projecting that 42,000 construction jobs would be created in the two states, 24,000 in New Mexico.Critics of SunZia say the figures are grossly exaggerated.
Opposition to SunZia in New Mexico mostly has centered on concerns that it could hurt White Sands Missile Range. In Arizona, opponents say the power lines would do environmental harm to the San Pedro River Valley. Many governments in job-hungry rural New Mexico have backed the project. They include Luna, Hidalgo, Grant, Sierra, Torrance and Lincoln counties and the city of Deming.