Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – About a year and a half ago, I wrote a piece on how New Mexico is set to become the Saudi Arabia of wind, which went viral. It described how four wind farms will have a capacity to generate 3.5 gigawatts of power, as much as four nuclear power plants.
Now the other shoe has dropped, with Department of the Interior having given permission to Pattern Energy to build a 550-mile long high-density transmission line stretching west through New Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona. Pattern says that the construction of the line will begin in 2023 and that it could be operational as early as 2025, and will be up by 2026 at the latest. Ultimately it will reach California, and it will carry 3 gigawatts of power to consumers.
Some 12% of Arizona’s electricity is generated by coal, which is horrible since it is the most carbon-polluting of the fossil fuels. Another 42% comes from fossil gas. To the extent that this clean wind power can replace these planet-boiling hydrocarbons, Pattern is helping save the planet.
Pattern proclaims, “Together, SunZia Wind and Transmission comprise the largest renewable energy infrastructure project in U.S. history.”
Making the announcement of government permitting in Albuquerque in August, President Biden said, “My administration recently completed a review of the proposed SunZia line to transport energy from a planned wind farm in New Mexico to California… These projects are expected to create 2000 new construction jobs and up to 150 permanent jobs, providing clean energy to up to 3 million Americans.”
Susan Montoya Bryan in her article for AP notes that the line will carry more power than the Hoover Dam generates. The Dam has a nameplate capacity of 2 gigawatts, whereas the line will carry 3 gigs. She also points out that Deb Haaland, the Secretary of the Interior, is from New Mexico. She broke ground at the site where the transmission line begins on September 1. She also replied to environmentalists with concerns about the line’s impact by saying that the Bureau of Land Management worked with local groups to find the best route.
Pattern estimates that if you add up direct and indirect economic benefits of the wind farms and transmission wires, they will amount to over $20 billion.
As I mentioned in my piece from 2022, some of the company’s payments to locals will go to schools in areas where people can really use the help. Pattern’s SunZia wind farms are in thinly populated in San Miguel, Lincoln and Torrance Counties, which are in turn situated in a wind corridor that allows the turbines to operate 80% to 90% of the time. The need for the electricity thus generated, however, is in big cities such as Phoenix and Los Angeles to the west.
The special transmission line has to be built because the old electricity wires can’t carry the needed amount of power. In fact, the entire US grid will need to be redone in the same way. This news is great for the workers who will need to be hired to do this essential work. In fact, maybe the twenty-first century needs an upbeat, celebratory, green version of Glen Campbell’s existentially gloomy “Wichita Lineman.”