New Mexico Senators Differ on Proposed Missile Range Power Line

Bob Brewin, Nextgov.com
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Bob Brewin, Nextgov.com
Aug. 22, 2013, 6:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — New Mex­ico’s two Demo­crat­ic U.S. sen­at­ors dif­fer over plans to run a power trans­mis­sion line through White Sands Mis­sile Range test areas.

Ju­ni­or U.S. Sen. Mar­tin Hein­rich strongly backs de­vel­op­ment of the line as “vi­tal” to the state’s eco­nomy. Sen. Tom Ud­all, mean­while, has urged pres­id­en­tial in­ter­ven­tion to re­solve dif­fer­ences between the De­fense De­part­ment, which op­poses the plan, and the Bur­eau of Land Man­age­ment, which se­lec­ted the route.

In an Aug. 19 let­ter to In­teri­or De­part­ment Sec­ret­ary Sally Jew­ell, Hein­rich blas­ted the Pentagon for its con­tin­ued delay of the pro­ject by first agree­ing to and then back­ing off pro­posed routes for the line across the mis­sile range.

BLM has since 2009 over­seen the right-of-way pro­cess for the $1.5 bil­lion, 515 mile, 500 kV trans­mis­sion line planned by Sun­Zia LLC to link wind-power gen­er­at­ing sites in rur­al New Mex­ico with Ari­zona. On June 14, the bur­eau se­lec­ted a route that crosses the north­ern ex­ten­sion of the mis­sile range — a route op­posed by the Pentagon on na­tion­al se­cur­ity grounds be­cause it would in­ter­fere with mis­sile tests.

Hein­rich told Jew­ell that suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment of trans­mis­sion pro­jects like Sun­Zia’s are vi­tal to the state’s eco­nomy and job cre­ation.

Sun­Zia has po­si­tioned its pro­posed line as a way to trans­mit “green” en­ergy gen­er­ated by wind tur­bines in rur­al, east­ern New Mex­ico to urb­an mar­kets in Ari­zona and pos­sibly Cali­for­nia. Hein­rich agreed: “The Sun­Zia trans­mis­sion line will help de­liv­er wind and sol­ar en­ergy gen­er­ated in New Mex­ico to the ma­jor west­ern en­ergy de­mand cen­ters,” he said. “Without ac­cess to those mar­kets, New Mex­ico’s re­new­able en­ergy re­sources will re­main isol­ated and largely un­tapped.”

Hein­rich said De­fense first agreed to a route across the mis­sile range in May 2011, then later asked BLM to push the line fur­ther north. This month the Pentagon sug­ges­ted Sun­Zia bury 35 miles of the line that cross the range at a cost of $350 mil­lion. Hein­rich, in his let­ter, ques­tioned wheth­er any route se­lec­ted by BLM would sat­is­fy De­fense. “Moreover, DoD and WS­MR have not yet provided any as­sur­ances that the route that they cur­rently prefer will still be ac­cept­able to them at any time in the fu­ture,” he wrote.

He told Jew­ell that if Sun­Zia walks away from its planned pro­ject due to fur­ther delays in route ap­prov­al, “it will sig­ni­fic­antly dam­age New Mex­ico’s pro­spects for large-scale re­new­able en­ergy de­vel­op­ment. Without the abil­ity to sell wind and sol­ar en­ergy out­side the state, the de­mand for com­mer­cial scale re­new­able en­ergy de­vel­op­ment will re­main low.”

Ud­all, in an Aug. 16 in­ter­view with the Al­buquerque Journ­al sug­ges­ted that Pres­id­ent Obama may need to in­ter­vene to re­solve the dif­fer­ences between BLM and De­fense.  “When we have two agen­cies that dis­agree like this, the White House needs to try to crack some heads to find a solu­tion,” Ud­all told the Journ­al.  Without trans­mis­sion pro­jects like Sun­Zia, New Mex­ico will lose out to oth­er states that are de­vel­op­ing re­new­able re­sources, Ud­all said.

Jen­nifer Tal­helm, a Ud­all spokes­wo­man, told Nex­t­gov that the Sen­at­or be­lieves that New Mex­ico’s “un­im­peded air­space and its abund­ant sun and wind” should be used to help the state cre­ate jobs and eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­ity.

“At the end of the day, this is a con­flict between two di­vi­sions of the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” she said, “and Sen. Ud­all be­lieves the White House should step in and re­solve the is­sue in a way that fully pro­tects the im­port­ant mis­sions of WS­MR and still al­lows for re­new­able en­ergy trans­mis­sion, which is es­sen­tial for New Mex­ico to com­pete with its sur­round­ing states in clean en­ergy pro­duc­tion. He has called on the ad­min­is­tra­tion to find a work­able solu­tion as soon as pos­sible.”

Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., whose dis­trict in­cludes the mis­sile range, has backed de­vel­op­ment of the Sun­Zia line as long as it does not in­ter­fere with test op­er­a­tions. “I hope Sun­Zia re­cog­nizes how dam­aging their pro­posed route will be to na­tion­al se­cur­ity,” he has said, ur­ging the com­pany to al­ter the route.

Re­prin­ted with per­mis­sion from Nex­t­gov.com. The ori­gin­al story can be found here.

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