by ARI PHILLIPS on ClimateProgress
On Saturday, the federal government approved a major renewable energy
transmission line that could help open up the West to stranded solar and
wind assets and enable up to 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy —
enough to power over one million homes — to feed into the grid. The $2
billion project, overseen by SunZia, will span 515 miles across New Mexico
and Arizona, and support more than 6,000 jobs during construction and
more than 100 permanent jobs according to the Department of the Interior.
“SunZia will help carry New Mexico wind and solar to larger markets in the
West,” Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, a New
Mexico-based clean energy and low-carbon economy advocacy
organization, told ThinkProgress. “There is so much possibility with the
advance of both utility scale and decentralized renewable energy
generation to displace fossil fuels that are threatening our climate, health
The SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, which will tap wind resources
in New Mexico and solar and geothermal in New Mexico and Arizona, was
proposed in 2009. In 2013 it encountered serious pushback from
Republican leaders in New Mexico who argued that the route could disrupt
the country’s national security efforts. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez
sent a letter to the DIO warning that the route could interfere with the
Army’s White Sands Missile Range. She argued that a 45-mile stretch of the
route interfered with a region where missiles were tested.
The Bureau of Land Management addressed these concerns, and in
working with the Department of Defense will now be burying three short
segments of the transmission lines as they pass near the missile range.
According to the DIO, the route also avoids major population centers,
cultural sites, highways, and pipelines where possible. The project includes
two parallel 500-kilovolt transmission lines and related facilities located on
federal, state and private lands.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), expressed continued disapproval of the
project, which passes through a portion of his district.
“Green-lighting the completion of SunZia along the chosen route is a
reckless rush to judgment without thorough examination,” he wrote. “It will
dramatically impair the mission of White Sands Missile Range to test
defense systems critical to the protection of our nation and troops.”
Pearce wrote that he is “extremely surprised” that U.S. Senator Martin
Heinrich (D-NM) and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) would support the project,
which he argues would also destroy “sites fundamental to New Mexico’s
history and heritage.”
“I am taken aback by their support for crony corporate welfare at the
expense of our culture,” he said.
Pearce’s strong arguments against supporting renewable energy may have
something to do with his being supported heavily by the fossil fuel industry.
According to a 2013 report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics,
Pearce received the third most contributions of any congressional member
from the fracking industry between 2004 and 2012.
In his statement, Pearce does not mention the roles that domestic
renewable energy generation and improved grid infrastructure play in
national security. The electricity grid is vastly outdated and in need of
upgrading while renewable energy generation can reduce reliance heavypolluting
fossil fuels whose prices can spike and dip, disrupting stability.
Modernizing the electric grid not only helps incorporate the growth of
renewable energy sources, but also enables better smart grid technology
that can improve efficiency and reliability.
The Department of Defense has realized this risk and is heavily investing in
a variety of renewable energy projects. The Army has a “Net Zero Energy”
initiative that aims to produce as much energy as they use on bases. For
now, the U.S. military is the largest single consumer of energy and oil on the
planet and small shifts in fossil fuel prices can mean billions of dollars of
A note from JohnnyEveryman: Rep. Pearce was one of the 227 Republicans, out of 230, who voted in 2014 to cut the Pentagon's budget for researching and planning for the effects of climate change, a topic that the Pentagon sees as intrinsic to National Security, with its potential for famine and thus civil unrest, and the possibilty of lack of supplies, like oil.