Environmental review and analysis of transmission line projects is an iterative process. A project is proposed; the proposal is reviewed; alternatives are developed; comments are solicited and considered; revisions are made. Then the process repeats.
The Southline Transmission Line Project provides a great example. The Bureau of Land Management New Mexico and Western are co-lead agencies preparing the environmental impact statement for the project. The BLM recently completed meetings with Federal, state and county agencies as part of the process of developing alternatives for the project.
These meetings were an opportunity for the agencies to review the preliminary alternative routes being considered by the BLM and Western for the project and identify concerns and issues with any of the alternative routes. Input from the agencies will be included in the final alternatives development report and keeps the environmental analysis moving forward on schedule.
The BLM and Western expect to complete a draft EIS later this year. That’s when the public will have a chance to review and comment on the draft EIS. Those comments will then be considered as the agencies develop a final EIS.
Have you ever wanted to know more about the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process and how Federal agencies analyze projects? Here’s a chart that shows the steps in the process. You can also learn more in the NEPA section of the Department of Energy’s website.
The Bureau of Land Management recently released the scoping summary report for the proposed Southline Transmission Line project, ending the 90-day scoping period for the project environmental impact statement.
BLM and Western, as joint lead agencies in the preparation of the EIS, held six open houses in New Mexico and Arizona in May during the scoping phase. The scoping phase gives the public the opportunity to learn about a proposed project, share concerns and provide comments on what potential impacts should be analyzed in the draft EIS expected in 2013.
Major concerns discovered during the scoping process included the NEPA process and BLM’s management plan amendment, wildlife impacts and socioeconomic impacts.
Southline Transmission, LLC, proposes to construct, operate and maintain a 360-mile, high-voltage power line from Afton, N.M., to Saguaro substation northwest of Tucson, Ariz. About 240 miles would be new construction of a 345-kilovolt line on mostly BLM land while the rest would be an upgrade to an existing Western line. If completed, the line will add 1,000 megawatts of transmission capacity to the southwest.
Two Western employees participated in the Bureau of Land Management Solar Workshop in Las Vegas Nevada March 6-8, 2012. BLM put on the workshop to provide information to Bureau of Indian Affairs on developing solar projects on Federal lands.
These workshops include reviews of BLM environmental impact studies, BLM solar zones, and panels on lessons learned and project sponsor challenges.
Western Operations Support Specialist John Steward provided an overview of transmission development processes with a focus on solar projects. “It was a great experience to speak at a workshop that provided me the opportunity to educate others on Western’s role as a transmission service provider and a facilitator for interconnections,” said Steward.
Transmission Infrastructure Program Senior Investment Officer Roman Fontes also participated in the BLM workshop. He served on a development panel with other Federal agencies and commercial developers discussing the standards and selection process used to screen projects for viability. “BLM solar workshops are an important forum for exchanging information with BLM, BIA, NREL and industry partners on key development tasks to realize solar projects,” said Fontes. “The panel discussed challenges and lessons learned for commercial developers and including commercial aspects of Purchase Power Agreements and Transmission Service Agreements, and bank and finance requirements.”
Fontes also conducted a follow up session with BIA participants on commercial and finance structures, negotiations and lease and lease-back arrangements.