Arizona utility regulators have authorized construction of a planned $2 billion transmission line between Arizona and New Mexico.
The state Corporation Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve the 515-mile-long SunZia Southwest Transmission Project. The certificate issued by a state committee and affirmed by the Corporation Commission is one of the last major permits the project needs.
"Once the few remaining approvals are secured, SunZia will proceed with financing, design and engineering activities," SunZia spokesman Ian Calkins said in a statement applauding the commission's decision.
The SunZia project aims to tap into wind resources in New Mexico as well as solar and geothermal potential in New Mexico and Arizona. The line will export electricity to markets in the West.
Commissioners Andy Tobin, Bob Stump and Bob Burns voted to approve the project, while Commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little voted no.
Stump said the project is needed to help upgrade the electric grid.
"Today, we have an opportunity to render our infrastructure more reliable for our future -- at no cost to ratepayers," Stump said. "This is, I believe, a pressing need."
It's nonsensical to celebrate renewable energy while refusing to build infrastructure to deliver it, Stump said.
The project will have transmission towers that stand, on average, 135 feet tall, and Little said it was a "mistake of the first order" to allow the line to be built across the environmentally sensitive San Pedro River valley in southeastern Arizona.
"I am truly saddened that one of the crown jewels of Arizona's unspoiled wilderness will be irreparably harmed by this decision," Little said.
The project still requires permit approval from the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission.
Tom Wray, SunZia's project manager, said the New Mexico commission will have to apply essentially the same criteria as the Arizona utility regulators used to decide whether to approve the permit.
Wray said the project application should be filed by early summer.