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Largest renewable energy infrastructure project in U.S. breaks ground in New Mexico

Bureau of Land Management

Executives with one of the largest wind and solar energy development companies in the world are gathering in New Mexico with federal officials to mark the groundbreaking of what will be the largest renewable energy infrastructure project in the United States.

The SunZia transmission line will stretch about 550 miles from central New Mexico, funneling electricity from massive wind farms to metro areas in Arizona and California. Siting and permitting have taken years. Construction has begun, with the system expected to come online in 2026.

Advocates say it will be a key part of the Biden administration’s plan for boosting renewables and improving reliability among the nation's power grids.

The Biden administration has set a goal to eliminate carbon emissions from the power sector by 2035. The effort faces numerous challenges, including the lack of transmission.

The U.S. Department of Energy has cited independent estimates that indicate transmission systems need to expand by 60% by 2030 and may need to triple by 2050. The agency is working with two national laboratories on a transmission planning study, with findings and recommendations expected later this year.

The Biden administration is just the latest to promise speeding up the development and modernization of the nation’s energy infrastructure through expedited federal permitting and regulatory reforms. Former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump also vowed to roll back bureaucracy.

The SunZia transmission project has been more than a decade in the making. After an initial review over several years, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management authorized a right-of-way grant on federal lands. That was revisited when developers in 2021 submitted a new application modifying the route after the U.S. Defense Department and environmentalists raised concerns about the path of the high-voltage lines.

Final approval came in May, with U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland saying the latest application was reviewed in record time as the administration has tried to fast-track more projects.

In Arizona, there are still concerns about potential ecological damage from SunZia where it will cross the San Pedro River Valley. Critics plan to appeal a recent court decision affirming regulatory approval in that state.