Sunzia power project could damage some Pima County conservation and habitat sites

Published: Oct. 20, 2023 at 6:46 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Sometime in 2026, a 533-mile power line will snake from Southeast New Mexico through a section of Pima County, ending just Southwest of Phoenix near Buckeye.

It will be the culmination of years of effort and $8 billion in private investment.

The line will carry energy generated by wind turbines in New Mexico, enough to generate power for three million people.

The project is called Sunzia and is being developed by Pattern Energy.

The project has the blessing of the Biden Administration and is the largest project of its kind in the United States.

The power transmission lines are a concern for environmentally sensitive Pima County.

The transmission lines run through the San Pedro Valley, home to some of Pima County’s riparian areas and open space preservation sites.

“We won’t know until the line is built, what impacts have occurred.,” said Linda Mayro, the Director of Conservation and Sustainability for Pima County.

The line and the transmission towers will run for 16 miles near the Northeastern boundary of Pima County.

They will cause some damage to habitat and open space, which must be mitigated by the company building the project.

“We need to be made whole in terms of mitigation offset that, because you are removing or you will be disturbing some amount of that land under the wires,” Mayro said.

Pima County has become very environmentally sensitive since the passage of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan 25 years ago. It has rules protecting the habitat and open space. Since the project is likely to do damage to the habitat, the county needs to make sure that loss is made up somewhere else to preserve the integrity of the plan.

“We’re requesting 168 acres of mitigation and land to be obtained and deeded to Pima County somewhere in the San Pedro Valley, that is, again, going to make us whole,” she said.

Pattern Energy, the company building the project, is still negotiating with the county over terms. It will meet with the supervisors before a decision is made in early November but the county says it will hold the company to task.

“So after this line is built, we’re going to go out and do an inspection and make sure our conservation lands have not been further impacted and if they have, we’ll quantify that and they’ll owe us more,” Mayro said.

The project, which will bring electricity to three million people in Arizona and California, won’t be completed until 2026.

This will be the county’s only touch with the project. While the project is big and the county’s role small, how it affects critical habitat is major.

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