Land commissioner halts huge renewable energy project

Solar panels

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has put the brakes on a $2 billion transmission project that would carry electricity generated by renewable resources in New Mexico and Arizona to markets across the West.

Dunn announced late Wednesday that he was issuing a 60-day suspension after meeting with the developers. That time period will give his office more time to review the project before any further development affects state trust lands, he said.

Dunn, a Republican, recently took over as land commissioner after a victory in the November election over incumbent Democrat Ray Powell.

Nearly 30 percent of the proposed line will cross state land. Dunn said he wants to ensure all the necessary agreements are in place to protect the land and ensure that public schools and other beneficiaries of the revenues earned from activities on that land are getting fair consideration.

Two public meetings have been scheduled March in Deming and Socorro to discuss the project.

Land office representatives were not invited to last Saturday’s announcement by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that the federal government was giving the project the green light, Dunn said. He called it “one example that the State Land Office and state trust land beneficiaries have not yet had a voice.”

SunZia spokesman Ian Calkins said Thursday that the developers plan to work with the land office to provide any needed information.

Federal approval followed months of negotiations over the line’s route near the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. Range officials and the U.S. Department of Defense were concerned that operations and national security would be compromised by the transmission line.

The compromise called for burying a portion of the line.

SunZia is one of seven pilot projects the Obama administration put on a fast track in hopes of boosting renewable energy development mainly across the West. The projects cover a dozen states and span thousands of miles, from Wyoming to Oregon and south to Nevada, and from central New Mexico to southern Arizona.

SunZia still has to get permits from the state and finalize financing before construction can begin. Calkins has said developers are hoping to have the transmission line operating in 2018.

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