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BLM issues draft EIS for 500kV SunZia transmission project [free access]

May 3, 2022

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a US Interior Department agency, has issued a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the 500 kV SunZia transmission project, which is designed to deliver 4,500 MW of mainly renewable energy from New Mexico and Arizona to Southwest markets, including California.


The SunZia project, which has been under development since the mid-2000s, would stretch 550 miles (880 km) between central New Mexico to central Arizona. It will have a 3,000 MW line and a 1,500 MW line, both of which will be built separately. The project is being developed by SunZia Transmission LLC [owned by MMR Group company SouthWestern Power Group LLC (80 per cent); Tucson Electric Power (1 per cent); Shell Wind Energy (5 per cent); Salt River Project (13 per cent); and Tri-State Generation and Transmission (1 per cent)].


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved an agreement granting San Francisco-based Pattern Energy—which is also developing wind farms aggregating 3,000 MW in New Mexico, 1,500 MW on the first line. In a pending request, SunZia Transmission and Pattern Energy had asked FERC to approve the results of a second solicitation process that would give Pattern Energy another 1,500 MW on the same line, which was expanded by switching to high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology from an alternating current (AC) line.


The BLM is taking public comments on the draft EIS until August 1, 2022.


The companies aim to start building the first line in mid-2023 and start commercial operations by 2025. The schedule for the second line will depend on the timing of the financing and construction of the first line as well as regional demand for transmission capacity. Notably, the MMR Group, which owns the SunZia project, has agreed to sell it to Pattern Energy in a deal expected to close this year.


Meanwhile, BLM also stated that it has begun the environmental review process for NV Energy's 525 kV Greenlink West project in Nevada and TransCanyon’s (a Pinnacle West Capital and Berkshire Hathaway Energy joint venture) 500 kV cross-tie project between Nevada and Utah. Together, the three projects are expected to transmit 10,000 MW of renewable energy.