Southern Arizona residents share concerns as construction of a 550-mile transmission line nears

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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – A multi-billion dollar project is causing a stir.

SunZia Transmission is the largest clean energy infrastructure project in US history, and it’s taking place in our own backyard.

Soon, the 550-mile transmission line will bring wind energy from New Mexico to Arizona.

SunZia consists of two transmission lines. The first is a 3,000-megawatt line running from central New Mexico to south-central Arizona. The second is a 1,500-megawatt line that runs the same route. Officials say the two lines will cost more than $14 billion.

SunZia Transmission Path(pattern energy)

In 2016, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) approved the project.

Now, Pattern Energy, which recently acquired SunZia Transmission, intends to change its Environmental Compatibility Certificate (CEC).

Dozens of people packed into Biosphere 2 for a public hearing Tuesday night. The conversation was “highly charged.”

“I’m quite surprised that this project hasn’t received more publicity,” said Robin Fogden. “The construction involved will clear out a huge amount of desert. The desert hardly survives on its own now.”

Fogden, a Catalina resident, voiced his concerns before an ACC panel.

“I oppose this project because Arizona law states that the power supply must be dependable and dependable,” he said. “When the wind stops blowing, there is no reliability on these power lines. If they start sending electricity from fossil fuels down these lines, I don’t think that’s green.”

Pattern Energy’s senior director of business development, Kevin Wetzel, says the SunZia Transmission project offers significant benefits.

“3.7 million Americans will be able to obtain energy from this project,” Wetzel said. “We expect over $150 million in direct payments to south-central Arizona and over a billion combined economic benefits in Arizona.”

Pattern Energy aims to make the following adjustments to its CEC:

  • Updated structural designs, including additional structures along a 1.6km stretch near the Pinal Central Substation.
  • A separate CEC order for each transmission line, allowing for project financing.
  • A project extension for Transmission Line 1. This will delay completion from February 2026 to February 2028.

“That gives our construction schedule a bit of a buffer,” said Wetzel. “We will have no impact whatsoever in relation to these updated structures. So the same number of access roads, the same priority.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, a spokesman for the Tucson Audubon Society said the impact on wildlife will be “profound.”

The conservation group says hundreds of migratory birds rely on the San Pedro River Valley, which is near the SunZia transmission route.

In an open letter to the ACC, the Tucson Audubon Society wrote the following:

“The San Pedro River Valley is one of the most biologically important and sensitive watersheds in North America. Each year it provides a critical migratory corridor for millions of birds, as well as a crucial habitat for 250 bird species, including 45 species with special protection status, some of which, like the Southwestern willow flycatcher and Western yellow-billed cuckoo, are listed as federally endangered and are classified on the river as designated critical habitat. The San Pedro River Valley is also home to more than 80 species of mammals, 40 species of reptiles and amphibians, 100 species of butterflies and 20 species of bats, which together with its abundance of birds make it a biodiversity hotspot of both continental and global importance . The changes proposed by SunZia would have very significant and potentially devastating biological impacts on this region of exceptional biodiversity.”

“Energy diversity is really important,” Wetzel said. “By the middle of next year, we expect to get funding for the project and start construction of Transmission Line 1.”

More information about the SunZia Transmission project can be found here HERE.

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