A power consortium plans on building two power lines to deliver solar and wind energy to Arizona by way of New Mexico. The group, however, is getting push back from green activists who want 50 percent of one of the power lines devoted to renewable energy.
The consortium, SunZia, argues the two power lines will effectively deliver energy to the state of Arizona and will comply with strict clean air and clean power rules laid out by President Barack Obama’s administration. Environmentalists say they want at least one of the lines to include 50 percent renewable energy, ostensibly for the purpose of keeping “dirty” fossil fuel energy from transferring through the power lines.
The consortium claims such an order would be illegal because devoting one power line for renewables would discriminate against other energy sources.
The measure will go before the Arizona Corporation Commission in Phoenix Tuesday, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
The Obama administration — in hopes of integrating renewable energy into the U.S. power grid — granted SunZia permission last year to go-ahead with the project.
The consortium, made up of Tucson Electric Power (TEP) and Phoenix’s Salt River Project, hopes the $2 billion plan will be constructed and operating at full capacity by 2021. The lines will be used to power 1.5 million homes.
Anti-fossil fuel activists says SunZia will use the first line to transport energy derived from a natural gas plant built in Bowie, Ariz. — a move activists claim is cronyism, as the Bowie plant was built by Southwestern Power Group, a leading sponsor of the SunZia project.
Telling people the power lines are used to transfer renewable energy, but using them to transport fossil fuel energy is the “ultimate sin,” Peter Else, an opponent of the measure, said according to the Arizona Daily Star.
“You can’t put a condition on that would require the applicant to violate federal statutes in order to comply with the condition,” SunZia Project Manager, Tom Wray, argued at a Line Siting Committee hearing.
Many people in New Mexico are unable to get renewable energy on the grid, leaving energy derived from solar and wind power “stranded.”
“That’s one of the reasons the line is so long, 515 miles, to get that resource and bring it back” to its endpoint in Pinal County, Wray said at the meeting.
Additionally, wind can be used as a supplementary form of energy when the sun is not shining, Ravi Sankaran, an official with California-based solar and wind company SunEdison, argued during the Committee hearing.
“If you are a utility planner . . . you don’t want to be too dependent on any one resource,” he testified at the Committee hearing. Adding, “at this point none of the energy is committed to any utility or state,” he said.
Opponents also say the power lines are unnecessary.
“We’re not big enough in Arizona to justify those lines, even with all of Arizona’s renewable energy needs combined,” Carmine Tilghman, TEP’s director of renewable resources, told reporters at the Albuquerque Journal last year.
The Line Siting Committee considered opponents’ arguments last November but ultimately approved a much less restrictive condition. The committee accepted SunZia’s argument that a requirement to donate one of the power lines to mostly renewable energy would lose interest from investors.
SunZia “will, in good faith and consistent with the requirements of state and federal law, use its best efforts to secure transmission service contracts for renewable energy generation,” the less restrictive condition on SunZia stated in November.
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