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The Southwest’s Clean Energy Transmission Plan

Southwestern Power Group, a Phoenix-based energy supplier, continues to move forward with their SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, building out clean energy capture and transmission infrastructure from New Mexico to Arizona. The Project plans to take advantage of the high solar radiation and abundant wind resources in the region. 

The project marks a step forward in the development of inter-state, clean energy pipelines in the electricity industry. SunZia was awarded a Right-of-Way Grant in 2016 by the Bureau of Land Management and has been incrementally achieving new progress regarding their permits since 2019. This summer, the project is holding town halls with local residents to incorporate their inputs on how to create the transmission lines. 

The transmission line will run across state lines, marking a new era of clean energy transmission // Photo courtesy of SunZia

The project was initiated in 2008 and organizers have since continued to research, canvas, and collaborate with experts to help develop these unique power-carrying systems. Although the project is one of the first of its kind, it represents a larger necessity for America as new clean energy policies and appropriations roll out: safely and equitably developed power transmission infrastructure, built to optimize recently harnessed renewables.  

The solar and wind energy will be gathered in remote areas of New Mexico, and the project’s state-of-the-art, bi-directional electrical lines are designed to carry the harnessed electricity to counties just south of Phoenix. 

Map showing the solar radiation resources in New Mexico // Photo courtesy of SunZia

New Mexico and Arizona are uniquely positioned in the clean energy market due to their strong sun and powerful wind. By capturing the energy at these naturally occurring sources of renewable energy, the project aims to transmit the power to areas where consumers have expressed an appetite for solar and wind energy. 

A map showing the average wind speeds in New Mexico // Photo courtesy of SunZia 

For the past 15 years, SunZia has been working to build sustainable transmission lines with the input of local residents, according to the company’s website. 

SunZia’s power lines cross federal land and State Trust Land, thus requiring the stamp of approval from applicable regulatory authorities. The plan also passes over some privately owned stretches of property, which SunZia has been successfully negotiating permissions to build on, signaling residents’ willingness to contribute to renewable energy solutions at a pivotal moment for clean energy, climate solutions, and infrastructure alike in the United States. 

Prior to this project’s launch, states and municipalities were already clamoring to agree on regulations that would be equitable when shipping energy harnessed in one state across state lines — a practice that frequently occurs with fossil fuel electricity but has also happened to a lesser extent with solar and wind power. SunZia’s repeated statements and investments indicate that they are hopeful they can assist in facilitating an industry standard for such processes. 

The Southwestern United States has a high concentration of wind, particularly in New Mexico. // Photo courtesy of SunZia

New Mexico and Arizona appear to be good states to take on the challenge, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signing into law the Energy Transition Act in 2019, a bill that aims to have all of New Mexico on carbon-free energy by 2040. The state’s goal has the potential to allow neighboring states like Arizona to join in the journey to clean energy as well, according to a 2020 report. Efforts to make the leap by embracing projects similar to SunZia’s have the potential to add up to 4,000 jobs, the report states.

The SunZia Southwest Transmission Project’s future remains in flux for the time being, but continued, incremental approvals from federal and state regulatory authorities and private landowners suggest the Project stands a good chance of becoming fully functional, as planned. Currently, the project is slated to begin transmitting clean energy between 2022 and 2025. 


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