The US Department of Defense (DoD) has agreed to utilise its research and development lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory to commission a study on concerns raised by White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) related to the development of the SunZia Southwest transmission project in New Mexico.
The DoD has made this decision in response to a letter Senator Heinrich sent to Undersecretary Frank Kendall in September 2013 to reach common ground on the project.
In the letter, Heinrich persuaded the DOD to conduct the study with the laboratory, which will examine possible changes to test protocols that would enable the department to continue with its missions in the presence of the new transmission line, and find an amicable solution.
The DOD and WSMR have been opposing the preferred route of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) electricity line on the grounds of the project’s possible interference with training.
The $1.2bn project calls for the construction of 515 miles of two bi-directional extra-high voltage electric transmission lines and substations that will transport wind and solar energy from Arizona and New Mexico to customers and markets across the south-west desert.
To be operational by 2017, SunZia will ensure an increase in power reliability and improve domestic energy security in the south-west desert, helping the nation meet its demand for renewable energy and curb reliance on fossil fuels for power production.
In May 2011, the project received conditional approval from the DOD with the conditions including shifting a portion of the proposed route to the north and the shift is reflected in BLM’s final preferred route.
The BLM completed its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project in May 2012 and released the final EIS and the proposed resource management plan amendments in June 2013.