The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) last week unanimously approved what could be the largest wind farm in the Western Hemisphere, but a key transmission line meant to serve it remains in limbo.
In a 4-0 vote Oct. 5, the PRC approved Pattern Energy's 2.2 GW Corona Wind Project, continuing a recent boom for the resource in New Mexico. But last month, the commission also rejected a 520-mile transmission line proposal from developer SunZia that would carry Corona's power to California markets.
The PRC denied SunZia's proposal "without prejudice," allowing the developer to resubmit its application. Pattern officials said Thursday they would work with SunZia on its next proposal, but declined to say whether they would build the Corona project if the transmission line is not constructed.
The Corona project solidifies New Mexico's emerging role as a wind energy leader and could help California meet its 100% renewable energy target — if the power can get there.
The developer pinned its hopes on the long-debated SunZia Southwest Transmission project, proposed in 2008. Arizona regulators approved the line in a split vote in 2016, but New Mexico officials turned SunZia's application back at the beginning of September, saying it was incomplete.
Approval of the Corona wind farm was separate from the SunZia application because developers do not need to show they have a means to deliver the power when proposing new generation projects.
Even so, the SunZia line remains the "main path" to get Corona's power to market, Pattern said in a release, and company officials declined to tell Utility Dive whether they would build the project without the cross-state transmission.
"We are pleased to be working with the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project Team and are collaborating with them on the resubmittal of the application to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission," a Pattern spokesperson said via email. "The Teams are working to ensure that all concerns raised by the PRC have been addressed so the project can move forward and bring much needed economic development opportunities to New Mexico."
If constructed, the Corona project would make New Mexico a wind leader. Last year, the state added 570 MW of wind, a 51% increase over the 1.1 GW of wind capacity it had at the end of 2016. That's a faster growth rate than any other state, according to the American Wind Energy Association.