[Editor's Note: This is part 3 of the Grant County Commission work session on June 22, 2021.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

At the Grant County Commission work session on June 22, 2021, John Strand presented an update on the SunZia power transmission line that will cross Grant County.

"I want to thank Grant County for their support," Strand said. "It's been a long journey, basically 12 years since we started. What I would like to go over today is where we are now. The notice of intent was published in the Federal Register on June 4, which starts a 30-day scoping period. There will be three scoping public meetings, one this afternoon, and the next two nights with information on the BLM website. It's a short period, but everybody needs to understand that BLM is in the driver's seat when it comes to selecting routes. Last time we were here, we had a route approved by the BLM and it is still in place. It is the 520-mile route known as the preferred alternative route. What we would like to do is suggest to BLM, and that's what the hearings are about, to modify the route on the northern end. Working with White Sands Missile Range and their ongoing missile testing, we have agreed to try to move the route several miles to the north, which would not even be in their call up area. The call up area is 25 miles north of White Sands Missile Range and is mostly private, state and BLM land. White Sands can ask residents to evacuate in case of missile firings. Lincoln county suggested burying the lines, but that would be very expensive. The approved route touches a couple of corners of the call up area. If we moved the route, it would be better for everyone and would also be closer to a substation, which we also hope to move. So, the substation would be moved out of Lincoln County into Torrance County."

He said there would be some small modifications in this area, but they are minor. "We try to work with the property owners. Some say :'we don't want you on our fee land,' and others do want us on their land. We try to accommodate everyone. We do have an approved 520-mile route, and we would like to modify it. Another thing we would like to do is sum up the community benefits. We have decided we would pay $20,000 per linear mile that we go through your county. That has nothing to do with the road agreement. We hope to come back later and negotiate the road agreement, whether the county maintains the road and SunZia pays for it, or a contractor will maintain the road. The community benefits agreement is for the first line. We hope to build two lines, and we will come back with another community benefits agreement. We hope to gain some support as we have in the past with a proclamation or a resolution."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked to clarify that there are no modifications in Grant County.

"Not in Grant County, no," Strand replied.

Billings noted the ones in Luna and Hidalgo counties. "Please refresh my memory. Is it possible for these lines, for those in the counties to tie in and use the power in the areas or is it a transmission line from the east part of the state just coming through?"

Strand said it can be used in the area, "but to be honest Pattern Energy bought the rights for the first line, so you would have to negotiate with them. The second line there are substations in Luna and another in Hidalgo County. I think the second line would be easier to tie into. The reason we're trying to get the first line built and out quickly is that Pattern Energy is building wind generators in north central New Mexico, and they are needing more transmission to deal with this. New Mexico Senator (Martin) Heinrich has said that if everything goes as planned, New Mexico will have the largest wind farm in the United States."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked if SunZia would have more capacity after the second line. "Are there thoughts of a third line? And I'm seeing a no, from behind you. I'm curious if the first line is already at capacity if you are designing this in a way to add a third line."

Strand said nothing like that is planned at this time and if it were to happen, it would likely be a full new project. "We've been at this for 12 years and we don't want to complicate things by needing to get more right-of-way, because of the separation. As time goes on, I think more capacity will open up on lines that are in place. We have a lot of coal-powered plants that bring a lot of capacity to this area. El Paso and Las Cruces use a lot from Springerville and St. John's, Arizona. And there's another coal-fired plant just south of Willcox. I think eventually those plants will be terminated, which leaves some large lines moving through Grant County that would take energy. Another line, the South Line, has been delayed. I think maybe the sale of El Paso Electric has everyone looking at that line. Hopefully a new more efficient grid will come into place."

Browne also asked about the community benefit program. Strand confirmed the $20,000 per linear mile is a one-time payment for the first line.

Strand said the second line would bring another community benefit. "We are hoping to get the first line built quickly and then start on the second one, because we already have agreements in place with property owners and there is a timeframe for those agreements.

"So, there will be no ongoing source of revenue for the county other than the one-time payment?" Browne asked.

"There will be taxes on the private properties that have the line," Strand said. "You also have the potential of industrial revenue bonds and that would be negotiated with the county, and it could bring a benefit for a 25-year period."

Browne asked if there were any connection between the Great Divide wind project by Scout Energy that is being built in the county and the SunZia transmission line.

Strand said, as far as he knows, there is no connection. "It's very close to ours. Once the South Line was built, it was going to run on the south side of El Paso Electric, and ours is going to run on the north side of El Paso Electric's line. That was something that could have been explored when it was in open season, but I believe that project was supposed to go into South Line."

Browne asked when the community benefit of a total of $400,000 would be paid.

Strand told Browne that the county has 20 miles at $20,000 each mile, "so maybe the amount, which may be in two payments or one, can be paid in July, if we get approval. Otherwise, it will likely be a year or year-and-a half until completion."

The next article will address the Great Divide Wind Project update.