- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study on the potential impacts of the SunZia transmission line on White Sands Missile Range validates concerns over the project, a state lawmaker said Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, said the study proves key U.S. Department of Defense concerns that the proposed 500-mile transmission project could interfere with missile tests.

“The last thing New Mexico wants to do is shutdown 30 percent” of the missile range’s mission, which the study showed would occur, Pearce said. “This would impact the missions of Holloman Air Force base as well and we could lose them both.”

White Sands has said that if the project is approved as is, it could reduce testing operations at the missile range by up to 30 percent, potentially threatening national security. That also could mean layoffs at White Sands, which employs thousands and has an estimated $834 million annual economic impact in New Mexico.

However, the SunZia project, which would carry renewable energy from solar and wind projects in eastern and central New Mexico to Western markets, is expected to generate $1.2 billion in private investment.

Pearce’s assessment counters the study’s interpretation from SunZia project manager Tom Wray. He pointed to the study that said, although electromagnetic interference could affect certain missile guidance systems, no problems would occur if missiles remain at least 200 feet from lines.

“The right of way around lines is 200 feet and the electromagnetic strength at the edge of that right of way is almost negligible,” Wray told the Albuquerque Journal. “So the study didn’t conclude that that’s a problem.”

Pearce recommended the line be moved farther north or buried underground.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., a supporter of the SunZia transmission project, urged the Department of Defense on Tuesday to declassify the study on the project.

“I have consistently fought to support the state-of-the-art military training, research and development, and testing that occurs in New Mexico, and I will continue to do so,” Heinrich said. “But it is also important to find common ground that does not preclude one national priority over the other when both priorities can be realized, especially when it means so many jobs for New Mexicans.”

Last year, the Lincoln County Commission backed the ranchers and their right to use their land for the transmission line and for the development of wind farms.