Southline receives record of decision from Western, BLM decision expected soon

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) expects to issue a record of decision (ROD) on the Southline Transmission Project (Southline) soon, perhaps within a few days, Mark Mackiewicz, national project manager at BLM, told TransmissionHub April 25.

Unlike the Western Area Power Administration (Western), which will issue two RODs on the Southline project, BLM will issue one ROD, Mackiewicz told TransmissionHub.

The initial ROD from Western was issued April 5, selecting the Agency Preferred Alternative from the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as the preferred route for the project and enabling the design and engineering activities to proceed, a Western spokesperson told TransmissionHub April 25. The initial ROD also commits Western and Southline Transmission LLC to implement the proponent-committed environmental measures identified in the final EIS, the Western spokesperson noted.

A subsequent ROD by Western will determine the nature and extent of its participation in the Southline project, including whether Western will provide funding for a portion of the project, the Western spokesperson said.

“Those decisions are contingent on the successful development of participation agreements and financial underwriting, and would be recorded in a second ROD,” Western said in the April 5 ROD.

The ROD’s selection of the Agency Preferred Alternative from the final EIS allows detailed project costs to be developed, “which are necessary for future participation and financing decisions,” Western said in the April 5 ROD.

Western and BLM partnered together to issue the final EIS in November 2015, but are issuing separate RODs to address their specific authorities, Mackiewicz said. BLM’s ROD will address routing and right of way (ROW) issues stemming from the final EIS, since the Southline project would cross federal lands managed by BLM and other agencies, he said.

The Southline project is designed to provide up to 1,000 MW of transmission capacity in southern New Mexico and southern Arizona, with initial operations beginning in 2018, and the complete scope of service beginning by 2020, Southline has said.

The project would consist of two sections, a “new build” section that would involve construction of approximately 240 miles of new double-circuit 345-kilovolt (kV) transmission line in a 200-foot ROW between the Afton substation, south of Las Cruces, N.M., and the Apache substation, south of Willcox, Ariz.

The second section would entail the upgrade of approximately 120 miles of Western’s existing Saguaro–Tucson and Tucson–Apache 115-kV transmission line in a 100-foot existing ROW to a double-circuit 230-kV transmission line in a 100-foot to 150-foot ROW. The upgrade section would originate at the Apache substation and terminate at the Saguaro substation northwest of Tucson, Ariz.

The project is designed to connect to up to 14 existing substations and may include development of a new substation in Luna County, N.M., according to Southline, which is a subsidiary of Hunt Power LP.

Southline requested that Western consider providing financing for the project under the borrowing authority provided to Western under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 amendment to the Hoover Power Plant Act of 1984, Western noted in the April 5 ROD.

In March, Southline began an open solicitation process for parties interested in obtaining capacity on the transmission line, with a deadline of June 30 for parties to submit a non-binding expression of interest. Southline and its subsidiaries said that they plan to identify entities for negotiations in July to reach transmission service agreements.

In the April 5 ROD, Western noted that due to Southline’s extensive outreach and thorough route screening with Western and BLM, agency alternatives developed through the environmental review process resulted in only small variations that could potentially reduce or avoid local resource conflicts.

As an example, the ROD noted that the town of Marana, Ariz., in consultation with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, asked for a clarification in the environmental mitigation measures regarding a bat colony under the Ina Road Bridge, which resulted in revised language to reduce the sound of any blasting that would occurr in the area, and to say that no blasting would occur in April or May, when the maternity colony is present.

The Environmentally Preferred Altnerative for the project, for the most part, is the same as the Agengy Preferred Alternative, largely due to routing the project parallel to existing infrastructure and consolidating development to the maximum extent possible, Western said in the ROD.

“Consolidation also maximizes the opportunity to  use existing access roads for the project,” Western said. “This approach minimizes new disturbance and, in turn, environmental impacts.”