Today, hundreds of IBEW members are on the ground building a 520-mile high-voltage line between New Mexico and Arizona to tie in hundreds of wind turbines to the grid for the largest renewable energy project in North American history.
IBEW leaders anticipate the massive SunZia transmission and wind infrastructure project will put more than 1,000 members to work under a project labor agreement signed in December with Pattern Energy and Quanta Services, Inc.
“This massive $11 billion investment is a reflection of the confidence the developers have in IBEW members to harness the region’s renewable energy potential and build out the transmission capacity of the grid, bringing the country closer to its climate goals,” said International President Kenneth W. Cooper. “SunZia won’t just slash carbon emissions, but create good, middle-class jobs throughout the region, and this transmission PLA guarantees that.”
All told, the SunZia project will create more than 2,000 construction jobs and produce enough renewable power for more than 3 million homes, Pattern Energy said. It will bring online 3,500 megawatts of new wind generation, and employ Arizona members of Tucson Local 570, Phoenix Locals 640 and 769; and Albuquerque, N.M., Local 611.
Local 769 Business Manager Mark Cunningham said the bulk of the IBEW’s work will be outside construction erecting the new transmission line between central New Mexico and south-central Arizona. SunZia’s size and multistate, multijurisdictional scope make it an administrative challenge.
“We do a lot of transmission lines, that’s nothing new,” Cunningham said. “This job is a high priority and high visibility, and unique.”
Already, he said, hundreds of members working for several line contractors are on multiple sites spanning from south of Phoenix to the state’s border with New Mexico.
Crews broke ground last September on the wind portion of the project, in Corona, N.M. It will include more than 900 turbines, two HVDC converter stations, 10 substations and multiple operations and maintenance facilities.
The project is expected to be online by 2026.
SunZia’s economic ripple effect is expected to reverberate throughout the region, with union members’ incomes contributing to state and local payroll taxes, increased spending in local business and local construction vendors and investments in job training. The project is estimated to contribute more than $20 billion in total economic benefit and $1.3 billion in direct payments to local governments, communities, schools and private landowners.
Though the SunZia project has been on paper for more than a decade, shovels are in the dirt now in part because of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, signed in 2021 and 2022 by President Joe Biden.
“The IBEW leads the way in recruiting and training the highly skilled workforce needed to build out a clean energy infrastructure and a resilient and modern grid,” Cooper said.
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