Power decision must protect White Sands

There is a new voice in the public debate over whether the current preferred route for a proposed $1.2 billion electricity transmission line would impact testing at White Sands Missile Range, and therefore national security.

And it’s a voice worth listening to.

Brig. Gen. Gwen Bingham, commander of the White Sands Missile Range, pulled no punches when she told the Albuquerque Journal last week that allowing the line to cross over the range’s Northern Extension along the Department of Interior’s preferred route would reduce WSMR’s use of the area by 30 percent and mean the end of some low-altitude testing missions.

A group of private developers is seeking final approval for the 550-mile SunZia power line, which is intended to carry renewable energy as it becomes viable and available from central New Mexico to Arizona.

America would benefit from a viable renewable energy project, but it is important to find a route for the transmission line that does not compromise the ability to carry out the type of vital research that is conducted regularly at White Sands.

The U.S. military is moving into a new era of fewer boots on the ground and more technology launched from great distances.

And that is what White Sands’ mission is: testing weapons systems and technology to protect Americans — our military and civilians.

Bingham says White Sands is irreplaceable for some kinds of military testing.

“The adversarial threats are getting longer, not shorter,” the general said, referring to air and missile attack threats. “So, we need every inch of the range.”

In June, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management published a final SunZia environmental impact statement. A final record of decision is imminent.

The Department of Defense, while not opposed to the project itself, wants the alignment moved to avoid what is called the Northern Extension call-up area, which provides a safety buffer for tests.

While SunZia may be a worthy project, it is not a good tradeoff if it threatens our ability to assess and respond to threats.

And while investors cite jobs the project would create, mainly installing it, White Sands already is one of the state’s top economic drivers and employs more than 9,000 New Mexicans. And U.S. taxpayers have invested billions of dollars making it the world’s premiere test facility. There are no similar capabilities on U.S. soil.

Proponents have said Defense had given tacit approval to this route earlier and has moved the goalposts. Perhaps. But there is nothing ambiguous about Gen. Bingham’s statements.

Defense and Interior are discussing ways to avoid impacts to the range, and Bingham is pushing for a “win-win solution.” As they search for common ground, any decision must protect White Sands and its critical role in national security.

 

— Albuquerque Journal

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