COLORADO/NEW MEXICO BORDER — President Barack Obama designated the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico on Monday, using his executive authority to protect historic or ecologically significant sites – and determine the future of the Valley’s transmission possibilities.
The new monument includes approximately 242,500 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands. The landscape is comprised of rugged, wide-open plains, volcanic cones and steep canyons with rivers tucked away in their depths. The Rio Grande carves an 800-foot deep gorge through high plains at an elevation of about 7,000 feet. Among the volcanic cones dotting the plains, Ute Mountain is the highest, reaching to 10,093 feet.
In January, San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (SLVREC) CEO Loren Howard revealed the details of the company’s interest in a southern transmission line. After Exel Energy pulled out of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved joint transmission project to move power from the Valley to Walsenburg and then north to the Comanche power plant, Tri-State has since looked at the alternatives and decided to move forward to research a possible connection with the Carson transmission line in New Mexico.
“This echoes our own belief that transmission projects can be planned, constructed and maintained in concert with preservation and conservation principles,” the company said in a written statement.
Sarah Carlisle, a spokeswoman for the utility, said Tri-State was in the process of contacting stakeholders to determine where and when to hold informational meetings.
Today, the Valley’s main source of energy comes from the north. There are three lines, two major and one much smaller. The proposed San Luis Valley/Carson line would accommodate 230 kV and would start somewhere near the Alamosa and Conejos County border and finish near Española, N.M.
According to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument proclamation, nothing “shall be construed to preclude the Secretary from renewing or authorizing the upgrading of existing utility line rights-of-way within the physical scope of each such right-of-way that exists on the date of this proclamation. Additional utility line rights-of-way or upgrades outside the existing utility line rights-of-way may only be authorized if consistent with the care and management of the objects identified above.”
“For any future transmission proposals that head south, we will work closely with our partners in BLM New Mexico to take a hard look at them through the NEPA process, public input and the proclamation that established the monument.” said BLM San Luis Valley Field Office Assistant Field Manager Paul Tigan.
Today, the BLM is considering an Arizona Public Services (APS) application for a right-of-way grant to construct an above-ground electric transmission system, consisting of a single series of tower structures holding two high voltage circuits – a single-circuit 500 kilovolt (kV) transmission line and a single-circuit 230 kV line, according to the agency’s website. It would cross approximately nine miles of federal public lands in two separate locations.
BLM New Mexico is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Southline Transmission project, proposed in southern New Mexico and Arizona, according to the agency’s website. The line would cross federal lands managed by the BLM and other agencies. It also would cross state and private lands, and provide capacity for an additional 1,000 megawatts of electricity.
In addition, the proclamation stated, “Laws, regulations, and policies followed by the BLM in issuing and administering grazing permits or leases on lands under its jurisdiction shall continue to apply with regard to the lands in the monument, consistent with the purposes of this proclamation” and “Nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to alter or affect the Río Grande Compact between the States of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, or to create any reservation of water in the monument.”
Valley native and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will travel to each of the sites over the coming days to celebrate with local officials and community stakeholders who have worked to secure recognition for these national crown jewels. He will visit the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument on Saturday, March 30.
“The monuments will help tell the story of significant people and extraordinary events in American history, as well as preserve natural resources for the enjoyment of generations to come,” Salazar said. “The designations will serve as economic engines for the local communities through increased tourism and outdoor recreation and were made with bipartisan support from state and local officials, local businesses and other stakeholders.”