By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The federal government has finished another environmental review of a proposed transmission line that will carry wind-generated electricity from rural New Mexico to big cities in the West and similar reviews are planned for two more projects that would span parts of Utah and Nevada, the U.S. Interior Department announced Thursday.
The regulatory steps came a day after the Biden administration announced a $2.5 billion initiative to make the nation's power grid more effective at withstanding catastrophic disasters caused by climate change. It's also part of the administration's goal to create a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.
The SunZia transmission project in New Mexico has been more than a decade in the making. After an initial review over several years, the Bureau of Land Management authorized a right-of-way grant on federal lands.
That had to be revisited when developers in 2021 submitted a new application modifying the route after the U.S. Defense Department and others raised concerns about the path of the high-voltage lines.
A final decision on the right of way application is expected this summer, following a public comment period.
The Biden administration is just the latest to promise speeding up development and modernization of the nation's energy infrastructure through expedited federal permitting and regulatory reforms. Former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump also vowed to roll back bureaucracy.
While the other two transmission projects are in the early stages of the regulatory process, the experience in New Mexico illustrates the complicated nature of getting electricity from remote areas to population centers.
The siting of hundreds of miles of transmission lines, power poles and electric substations often involve a checkerboard of private, state and federal land that sometimes include environmentally sensitive areas.
Federal officials said Thursday that the projects have the potential to move 10,000 megawatts of electricity generated by wind and solar resources.
"Transmission projects like those advanced today offer a promising path for diversifying our national energy portfolio and connecting more renewable energy, while at the same time combatting climate change and investing in communities," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.
Aside from new transmission lines, maintenance and repair costs for existing electricity infrastructure have ballooned to more than $40 billion annually as many utilities struggle to upgrade decades-old equipment. Customers usually bear the costs.
Ice storms, hurricanes, wildfires and other extreme weather have knocked out large parts of U.S. electrical networks with increasing frequency in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis that found power outages from severe weather doubled over the past two decade.
New Mexico's renewable energy authority is among those invested in the SunZia project, which would include about 520 miles (836 kilometers) of transmission lines and a network of substations for getting wind and solar power to Arizona and California. The anchor tenant is Pattern Energy, which has been busy building massive wind farms in central New Mexico.
The proposed Greenlink West Transmission Project in Nevada would run through seven counties from Las Vegas to Reno.
NV Energy has said its investment of more than $2.5 billion in the project is expected to generate $690 million in economic activity and generate thousands of construction jobs.
And the proposed Cross-Tie Transmission Project would be made up of 214 miles (344 kilometers) of high-voltage lines between central Utah and east-central Nevada within federally designated utility corridors or parallel to existing transmission facilities.
Developers have said the project would relieve congestion on other key regional transmission lines and increase the ability for California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming to import and export renewable energy.
Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.