The massive wind-energy project that stretches from Corona across Torrance County, the rest of central New Mexico, and into Arizona has hit a snag near its terminus.
The SunZia Pattern Energy Group project which has been more than a decade in the making will take wind energy generated on the plains of eastern New Mexico and transporting it westward to serve about 3 million customers in Arizona and California.
Dirt finally began flying in early September, but work has been halted along a stretch in southeastern Arizona.
“The BLM received a letter from the Tohono O’odham Nation and San Carlos Apache Tribe raising concerns about a possible Traditional Cultural Property in the San Pedro Valley area,” Allison Sandoval, a Bureau of Land Management spokesperson, said in a statement. “In order to respond to these concerns, the BLM has ordered an immediate temporary suspension of SunZia’s activities authorized within the San Pedro Valley LNTP.”
Plans call for two 525-kilovolt transmission lines to be strung. And once completed it would be the largest wind project in the Western Hemisphere. It is expected to create 2,000 jobs while generating $20.5 billion in total economic development, including more than $8 billion in direct capital investment.
The 550-mile route crosses private land, as well as land administered by BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the federal levels, in addition to New Mexico and Arizona state property.
The project had been billed as a model for future public, private, and environmental agency collaboration.
Now, however, work has been shut down on a 50-mile stretch that is located entirely on non-federal land. The project had been expected to come online in 2026, and there is no determination of how the work stoppage will affect that timeline.
“The BLM will conduct government-to-government consultations on this matter and chart a path forward,” Sandoval said.
In the letter from the Tohono O’odham Nation, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was asked to “to halt the unlawful and deeply harmful destruction of the San Pedro Valley,” adding historical and archeological sites within the construction corridor were not properly identified or respected.
Company officials said the goal all along has been to be sensitive to all Native American issues.
“Throughout this BLM-led process which began in 2009, the SunZia Transmission team has actively worked to address any Tribal concerns. This pause, limited to the 50-mile stretch of the San Pedro Valley in Arizona, is to allow for these discussions and not based on any adverse findings about SunZia Transmission,” Natalie McCue, vice president of Environmental and Permitting at Pattern Energy, said in a statement. “We believe this is a good faith step as part of the BLM consultation process, which we will continue to work to support.”
Likewise, the BLM is seeking ways to resolve the situation in a manner satisfactorily for all parties.
“As we continue to pursue a clean energy transition based on the abundance of solar and wind capabilities in the Southwest, the Bureau of Land Management is committed to the responsible stewardship of our natural resources and close coordination with Tribal Nations,” Sandoval said. “Transmission facilities to move clean energy are a critical component to this transition.’
Although the work for a small portion of the project has been put on hold, the remainder continues as planned, she said.
“This suspension does not impact other segments in the process associated with the SunZia transmission line right-of-way,” Sandoval said.