Wind power from rural New Mexico headed to cities via 500-mile transmission line
A transmission line will send wind power generated in southern New Mexico 550 miles west into Arizona where it could serve urban markets there and in California.
The SunZia Transmission project was acquired by Pattern Energy and will combine with the company’s existing plans to develop wind power in the region.
The line starting near the border of Lincoln and Torrance counties will have a capacity of 3,000 megawatts – enough to meet energy needs of 2.5 million Americans, per a report from Pattern.
Together, the wind and transmission projects marked an $8 billion investment by the company, and construction was planned to begin in 2023.
The line was bought from SouthWestern Power Group to support wind energy generated by Pattern in New Mexico.
It will run from the start point through Socorro, Sierra, Luna and Hidalgo counties in New Mexico, and continue through Cochise and Pima counties in Arizona before ending in Pinal county about 60 miles south of Phoenix.
The full capacity of the line was previously awarded to Pattern for its SunZia Wind Project in New Mexico that will produce up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity.
SouthWestern Power Group will maintain its El Rio Sol Transmission Line in Arizona.
The transmission line was expected to go into service by 2025, while the wind project’s operations were planned for 2026.
Pattern Chief Executive Officer Mike Garland said the transmission line will help connect rural New Mexico’s wind power resources with larger power markets in urban areas.
“SunZia Transmission will create a clean power superhighway for millions of Americans by opening access to huge, largely-untapped wind energy resources in New Mexico,” he said. “SunZia is an investment that will empower our clean energy future and generate millions of dollars in economic impact across Arizona and New Mexico.”
He said renewable energy such as wind and solar sources was a growing energy sector in New Mexico that could help diversify the state’s economy, which is largely supported by fossil fuels.
“We are creating and implementing the largest clean energy infrastructure project in American history, demonstrating the vast potential of New Mexico’s wind power and the regions’ ability to bring large interstate infrastructure to reality,” Garland said.
In total, the two projects were expected to create 2,000 jobs during their construction phases and establish 150 permanent jobs when the wind power and transmission infrastructure goes into full operations.
The transmission route was originally approved in 2015 but was later adjusted around White Sands Missile Range and made to run parallel for 35 miles with another renewable energy line, the Western Spirit Transmission line to reduce its environmental impact.
Final regulatory approvals were expected to be filed in the Federal Register by April 2023.
The Western Spirt Line was developed by Pattern and New Mexico’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA) and sold to the Public Service Company of New Mexico in December 2021.
This line sends about 1,050 megawatts from Pattern’s Western Spirit Wind facilities in central New Mexico, to market in the Albuquerque area.
“SunZia is playing a vital role in decarbonizing our economy by enabling more than 3,000 MW of high-value, well-sited American wind generation to be constructed in New Mexico,” said David Getts, general manager of SouthWestern Power Group."
New Mexico had about $11 billion of unused renewable energy that could go into service through expanded transmission, per a report published by RETA.
Another 900 to 1,300 miles of transmission was needed, per the study, for New Mexico to realize the untapped resources from both wind and solar power.
That could bring $1 billion to $2 billion in capital spending, along with 3,600 jobs in line construction, read the report, along with $8 billion in spending and 20,000 jobs in plant construction.
Operations and maintenance of renewable energy transmission lines and power plants would mean 760 permanent jobs and $10 million to $20 million in annual economic activity.
“The renewable resource potential in New Mexico includes a prevalence of high-quality opportunities for wind and solar,” the study read. This presents opportunities to move power generated in New Mexico, where resources and development are potentially less expensive, to western coastal regions where demand growth for renewables is high.”
In 2021, renewable energy accounted for almost two-fifths of electricity generated in New Mexico, per data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than doubling since 2017.
New Mexico ranked 11th in the nation for wind energy potential, the EIA reported in April, and 3rd in solar potential.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.