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Pentagon Taps MIT to Study Controversial New Mexico Power Line

  The Pentagon has assembled a team that includes Massachusetts Institute of Technology (pictured) Lincoln Laboratory

The Pentagon has assembled a team that includes Massachusetts Institute of Technology (pictured) Lincoln Laboratory // Flickr user roger4336

The Defense Department has asked MIT Lincoln Laboratory to conduct a study of the potential impact a planned $1.5 billion electric transmission line will have on test operations at the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico.

The transmission line, which has been in development by SunZia LLC of Phoenix since 2009, won Bureau of Land Management approval on June 14 for a preferred route across the northern extension of the missile range. On Aug. 7, the Pentagon told BLM that the proposed route would interfere with weapons tests on the range, which in turn would threaten national security.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., requested the MIT study in September; last Friday he released an Oct. 18 letter in which Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, agreed to the study.

Heinrich backs the SunZia system, touted as a way to export “green” wind and solar energy from rural eastern New Mexico to power-hungry markets in Arizona and possibly California.  The SunZia line will consist of two single-circuit, bi-directional 500 kV transmission lines strung from 135-foot towers spaced 1,400 feet apart, which Defense says will interfere with tests on the range.

In the letter to Heinrich, Kendall said, “I understand this matter is important to New Mexico, and I hope we can identify a solution that meets everyone's needs.”  The Pentagon has assembled a team that includes MIT Lincoln Laboratory “to look at concerns raised by White Sands Missile Range and examine potential changes to test protocols that would allow the Department of Defense to adapt to the presence of a new transmission line,” Kendall told Heinrich.

Heinrich said in a press release, “I commend the DoD for pursuing this pragmatic approach to identify measures that would allow for both the missions at WSMR to continue and for the construction of the SunZia transmission line."

Kendall said he expected the Pentagon to complete the study in early 2014. BLM planned to make a decision on the SunZia line this fall; that decision will now be postponed until MIT Lincoln Lab finishes its study.

(Image via Flickr user roger4336)

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