The Intertubes are absolutely exploding with news that the largest renewable energy infrastructure project in US history is on track to begin construction next year, a new 550-mile transmission line and a 3,000-megawatt wind farm aimed at transporting clean kilowatts between New Mexico and Arizona. SunZia is the name behind both transmission and wind farm projects. Fingers crossed for success as this project has been more than 10 years in the making.
SunZia’s renewable energy project will finally come to fruition
SunZia’s transmission line first crossed CleanTechnica radar until 2014. That was after the project began the mandatory review process that began in 2009. So it’s been a long road.
“A proposed $2 billion, 500-mile wind and solar power transmission line called SunZia has stalled at White Sands Range in New Mexico, but the Department of Defense has come up with a solution: go down,” we noted in 2014. “The idea, according to a memo from the secretary of defense Chuck Hagel to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, is to bury three sections of track that would otherwise have an adverse impact on range operations.”
In 2015, SunZia and the Ministry of Defense were on board with the solution. Since then, it’s been a long mess that hasn’t attracted much attention from the media or the media for that matter CleanTechnica.
This is not surprising. Building a new national renewable energy transmission line can be a relative cake walk, as evidenced by the rapid growth of the wind industry in Texas. A new transmission line in Florida could do the same for the state’s solar industry if all goes according to plan.
Interstate transmission line construction is “another kettle of fish.” One example is the ill-fated Grain Belt Express, an effort to bring wind power from the Midwest to places to the east. That project has hit a brick wall in Missouri, though its developers are still trying to negotiate a solution.
SunZia’s renewable energy project appears to be in a better position. The latest update from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management indicates that the SunZia transmission line is moving forward. As of last month, the only outstanding issue was a limited series of right-of-way changes.
More renewable energy for the US
New buzz around SunZia was launched when leading renewable energy company Pattern Energy announced that it is expanding its US portfolio by acquiring the Sunzia Transmission project from its current owner, SouthWesternPower Group. The transaction cements the connection between the transmission line and Pattern Energy’s SunZia Wind project in New Mexico, a 3,000 megawatt wind farm and possibly more.
“SunZia Transmission has previously allocated the full 3,000 MW of transmission line capacity to Pattern Energy. Pattern Energy is developing the SunZia Wind project, a 3,000+ MW facility in New Mexico that will use the SunZia transmission line to provide enough safe, affordable and renewable electricity to power the needs of 2.5 million Americans annually,” Pattern Energy announced in year press release.
Under the terms of the transaction, SouthWestern Power Group will retain ownership of another renewable energy project called El Rio Sol Transmission. If you can figure out what it is, let us know in the comments.
Meanwhile, Pattern notes that combining the transmission and wind farm projects into one entity gives it bragging rights over everyone else.
“Together, SunZia Transmission and SunZia Wind constitute the largest renewable energy infrastructure project in US history with a total investment of over 8 billion dollars. Both projects are privately funded and will bring broad economic benefits New Mexico and Arizona.”
That is, if everything goes according to plan. Pattern notes that final approval of the project, including a record of decision from the Bureau of Land Management, will not be available until sometime next year. Assuming they pass, Pattern’s timeline calls for construction on both arms of the renewable energy project to be underway next year, with the transmission side completed in 2025 and the wind farm in 2026.
Dam Transmission Wind To Break
It’s always good news when the US can look forward to 3,000 new megawatts of renewable energy virtually in one fell swoop. The need for good news on renewable energy is especially welcome this week, considering that U.S. Senator and fossil energy stakeholder Joe Manchin (D-WV) has single-handedly thrown another giant monkey wrench into President Joe Biden’s agenda in the field of climate.
To be fair, Manchin isn’t the only one to blame for congressional inaction on the climate crisis. After all, Republican senators could easily offset Manchin’s influence. This guy only has one vote. One Republican vote would be enough to trip him up, if anyone on the Republican side of the aisle felt so inclined.
Even if the reality is what it is, exactly zero percent of Senate Republicans are willing to break with party orthodoxy on energy policy. They simply handed the climate money to Joe Manchin and he dropped it.
That’s the end of it, but it’s not the end of the demand for more renewable energy in the US. Another interesting step in this regard is Pattern Energy with its Southern Spirit Transmission line, which is aimed at connecting wind farms in Texas with other renewable energy sources in Louisiana and Mississippi.
This is particularly significant because wind resources in Louisiana, Mississippi and elsewhere in the US Southeast are less than optimal. Taller turbine towers and other improvements may improve the financial situation, but for now it makes more sense to import renewable energy from wind-rich states like Texas.
Importing wind power from Texas would be a big change for the Southeast’s renewable energy profile. Louisiana and Mississippi barely register wind or solar generation, although Louisiana is beginning to explore offshore wind potential in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mississippi is an interesting case. If the state expects to join the green hydrogen revolution, it will need to source more renewables.
As Hy Stor described, Mississippi already has two essential components of green hydrogen in the form of natural caverns for underground storage and existing transportation infrastructure for industrial customers. Renewable energy is another critical angle, and it’s hard to see how Mississippi will get there without importing renewables from other states.
For those of you keeping score at home, the Southern Spirit transmission line will run 400 miles through Louisiana to Mississippi and connect to Texas via another transmission project, the Rusk to Panola line, in partnership with Texas-based Garland Power & Light.
Pattern expects to begin construction on Southern Spirit in 2024, so stay tuned for more information.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: $8 billion renewable energy project connects new transmission line and wind farm in Arizona and New Mexico (Photo of Western Spirit transmission line courtesy of Pattern Energy via prnewswire.com).
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