Socorro County sign

The Socorro County Board of Commissioners voted last week to intervene in the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project’s application process with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

“The County will file a motion to participate as a party in the case,” Socorro County Manager Delilah Walsh said. “If the motion is granted the County will argue why the application should be denied or altered by the PRC.”

The commissioners voted to intervene after meeting in executive session during last week’s meeting.

SunZia officials filed an application and supporting testimony with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on March 12. Notification of the application and public hearing in June was published in El Defensor Chieftain last month.

“The No. 1 reason we are intervening is for the health and welfare and future of our children,” Socorro County Commissioner Martha Salas said. “The power lines not only ruin our beautiful, pristine open spaces, but also impede our military.”

SunZia’s proposal calls for the lines to run through the northern part of the White Sands Missile Range call up area. SunZia officials made an agreement with the Department of Defense to run the lines through a portion of the route underground.

“They (White Sands Missile Range) use the call up area a lot,” Salas said. “Burying the lines for three miles isn’t enough.”

Salas said another reason the County is intervening is to give constituents a voice.

“My constituents have begged me for help,” Salas said. “We’ve got to make sure our constituents’ voices are heard.”

A public hearing is scheduled for the project at 9 a.m. on June 13 through June 15 and June 18-19, if necessary, in the ground floor PRC hearing room in the P.E.R.A. Building in Santa Fe.

Any interested person may intervene by filing a motion for leave by May 15.

Among those opposing the project are ranchers Oliver Lee and Tom Lee.

“Commissioner (Glen) Duggins mentioned he wanted the ranchers to be happy,” Tom Lee told commissioners. “Just to let you know, up to this point, no we’re not happy. Dad (Oliver Lee) has three different ways he’s trying to stop it. One’s before the PRC, the other is through RETA, the Renewable Electric Transmission Authority, and the third is taking the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) to court.”

“We think they are going to put together a full-court press between now and the hearing in June,” Tom Lee added.

Tom Lee indicated he knew a land owner who has not signed an agreement who said he has been threatened with eminent domain.

“We think that’s what their effort is going to be, either to force everybody to sign or use eminent domain before they get to the PRC meeting so they can say they have the right-of-ways all locked up,” Tom Lee said. “We’re doing what we can to try to stall them out.”

Tom Lee said SunZia filed in paperwork a 2009 memorandum of understanding from Socorro County saying the Board supported the project. Walsh and County Attorney Adren Nance told him that resolution is no longer in effect, and said they forwarded him the most recent resolutions opposing the project, including one in 2017.

They told him each resolution replaces the previous one.

“In their paperwork, they never include any negative stuff,” Tom Lee said.

Commissioner Manuel Anaya asked Tom Lee if he was aware of other ranchers who refused to sign an agreement. Tom Lee mentioned some of the ones he was aware of.

Socorro General Hospital Administrator Veronica Pound told commissioners her family was among those refusing to sign.

Pattern Energy official Loralee Hunt told commissioners earlier this year that 78 percent of private landowners had reached an agreement with SunZia. But Tom Lee said SunZia’s filing the very same day stated only 38 percent had signed agreements.

Tom Lee said he was aware that more had signed agreements since then, but said SunZia’s claim “did not reflect reality.”

SunZia Transmission LLC is requesting that a final order be granted that approves the location of two 500 kilowatt (kV) transmission lines and facilities in specified areas in Lincoln, Socorro, Sierra, Luna, Grant, Torrance and Hidalgo counties; determines widths necessary for the project (approximately 400 feet, but may be up to 1,000 feet in some areas) and other matters that may be appropriate for the project.

The approximately 520-mile project is expected to cost $2 billion. According to the filing, lines in New Mexico will extend approximately 320 miles, with 134 miles crossing federal land, 96 miles crossing New Mexico State Trust Land and 90 miles of private land. It will transport electricity generated from wind farms in the eastern part of the state to a hub west of Phoenix that would serve customers in Arizona and California.

The application, supporting pre-filed direct testimony and attachments may be examined at the Socorro Public Library.