Power Corrupts...

...And Nuclear-Generated Electrical Power Corrupts Absolutely--Just Look At This Plan!

By Jeff Smith

TWO DAYS AGO you ran out of time to put in your two cents' worth on a monster project that looks to trash a few hundred miles of your favorite Sonoran Desert scenery, doom a bunch of your friends to die of cancer, and maybe blow up most of Phoenix west of Central Avenue.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

How come you don't already know about this?

Because the major powers involved either have vested interests in keeping the lid on until the play is a fait accompli or the seemingly dispassionate and disinterested watchdog agencies don't think you want to be disturbed during the middle of March Madness.

What's up here is that Public Service of New Mexico (PSN), an electric power utility and partner in the Palo Verde nuclear power plant west of Phoenix, has applied to construct a high-tension power line from Palo Verde to Santa Ana, Sonora, Mexico, so they (PSN) can sell power to the Mexicans.


Well, you can trot out the usual public relations earwash about hands across the border, raising the living standards of campesinos in rural Sonora, providing jobs for construction workers, goosing dividends for stockholders, making NAFTA the sort of success Jim Kolbe and Bill Clinton mooned over, but the bottom line, as ever, is this:


The Palo Verde nuclear generation plant hasn't been the unmitigated fiscal disaster many predicted it would be, but apparently Public Service of New Mexico isn't cashing in to the tune it dreamt it would. Thus, PSN wants to export nuclear power to Mexico and make a shitload of cash. This, despite the fact that Arizona Public Service, another principal in the Palo Verde plant, already has power lines running into Mexico through Douglas/Agua Prieta, and could easily provide whatever juice the Mexicans need. Same source, same destination, same purpose--so how come the sudden urge to build a new high-voltage line across our backyards?

Well gee, one might say, going from Palo Verde, which is west of Phoenix, clear over to Douglas/Agua Prieta, which is near the eastern border of Arizona, and then back to Santa Ana, Sonora, which is southwest of Nogales, would take the power line, what? 150 miles out of the way.

All righty then, so how come one of Public Service of New Mexico's three proposed alignments takes the high-voltage line south to I-10, then east along I-10 to state Highway 83, south along 83 to Sonoita, then along state Route 82 to Nogales, and on to Santa Ana? That comes to about 125 miles more than the first two alternatives, each of which would cross the Tohono O'Odham reservation.

Now as you may already know, I live just a mile and a half off the Sonoita/Patagonia highway, and I would hate like hell to have a high-tension power line to drive under and alongside, everywhere I go. I know what living around those power lines has done to the cancer rates among the Navajo and Hopi in northeastern Arizona. For decades now I've had this quirky habit of holding my breath every time I drive under a high-voltage line. Hey, I'm not dead yet, and no cancer so far.

But it isn't just a matter of me and my neighborhood, or the fact that state Routes 83 and 82 are a designated scenic route and an asset to the tourist economy. The folks out on the rez have rights as important as mine.

What it boils down to is the worst-case nightmare scenario of every NAFTA naysayer come horribly true:

They build a doomsday machine west of Phoenix to generate electric power via the atomic bomb method, threatening to melt down one day and destroy Phoenix (that silver lining again) but perhaps spread radiation contamination like Chernobyl. Then they pass a trade treaty for the benefit of the obscenely rich who already own all the multinational corporations, and in so doing suspend many of the environmental protections we have worked for and sacrificed for here in the U.S. Our Mexican partners in NAFTA do not have, and in the forseeable future will not have, our level of environmental concern. Then an out-of-state utility company with a cash-flow problem decides to bail itself out at our expense by constructing an ugly and health-threatening power line across some of our loveliest landscape, so they can sell nuclear power to Mexico. Which, by the way, already has two coal-fired electric plant projects underway, which will bring one million megawatts of power online in a few years. At which time Mexico will be in a power-surplus situation and ready to sell electricity back to the U.S.

And don't forget that Arizona Public Service already has the means to get power into Mexico from Palo Verde, if helping the Northern Sonorans is really what this is about.

But it ain't, and anybody with a lick of sense knows it.

What it's about is making as much money as fast as possible for Public Service of New Mexico, before the Mexicans get their coal-fired plants up and running.

And the people getting the hydraulic geranium (you don't want to know) in this carnival sideshow are the people of southern Arizona, Tohono O'Odham or Sonoita/Patagonia. We get to have the nuclear reactor; we get to have the ugly, unhealthy high-voltage transmission lines, while Mexico gets the electricity and New Mexico gets the money.

It interests me to note that the day the Department of Energy held its hearings for public comment in the application, in Nogales, Sells and Tucson, it was also announced that a coalition of folks here is proposing a new, mega-national park comprising Organ Pipe National Monument, the Barry Goldwater bombing range and other parts of the Sonoran Desert along the border. Two of the three alternate routes for the power line would cross this proposed park land. Writer Ed Abbey's widow, Clarke, is one of the new park's sponsoring authors.

With the first local announcement of the proposed power line coming on March 2, and with the period for public comment terminated on March 15, one wonders what we can do to defend ourselves, and if the Department of Energy even gives a damn. Is the fix already in?

And where is the Monkey Wrench Gang now that Ed Abbey's gone forever to Utah and we really need them all right here in River City?

I happen to know for a fact that Hayduke lives. TW

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