BY TED WYKA
DOE/NNSA Los Alamos Field Office
Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) critical national security mission is rooted in its ability to analyze and solve some of the most complex challenges facing our Nation. We help keep the nation safe by ensuring our nuclear deterrent remains safe and effective, we develop knowledge about the effects of climate change, and we investigate deadly disease outbreaks. We do all that more rapidly than ever before using LANL’s onsite capabilities, such as high-performance computing and accelerator and neutron science.
To accomplish today’s missions, and make sure we can accomplish tomorrow’s, LANL requires increasing amounts of electricity. Because the need for LANL’s expertise is so great, we anticipate that the laboratory’s peak seasonal power demand will exceed operating limits for its and Los Alamos County’s existing transmission lines by 2030. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration is proposing to upgrade its electrical power capacity serving this area of New Mexico. The project, referred to as the Electrical Power Capacity Upgrade, or EPCU, would provide the laboratory, and Los Alamos County, with reliable and redundant electrical power.
In coordination with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Department of Energy is preparing an environmental assessment to evaluate the potential impacts associated with this needed upgrade. This process will include an evaluation of impacts associated with constructing and operating a new overhead power transmission line across a designated utility corridor on the Caja del Rio Plateau and upgrading the laboratory’s existing electrical infrastructure.
The EPCU would allow state-of-the-art science experiments, innovation, and training in accelerator and neutron science, medical isotope production and research, and next-generation computing that could conduct larger simulations, perform more complex calculations, and produce results with greater fidelity. And it will enable LANL to continue driving scientific innovation and economic growth in the community.
Those are important objectives – but they’re not our only objectives. Among our goals with the project is to keep its impact on the landscape and the surrounding communities to an absolute minimum. We will take every opportunity to maximize the use of the existing designated utility corridor. Protecting existing cultural resources, wildlife habitats, and the scenic quality of the Caja del Rio Plateau is of paramount importance to the laboratory, the federal government, and the communities we work with every day to carry out our mission.
The power transmission line that is currently being proposed would originate at the PNM-owned Norton Substation located along Buckman Road west of Santa Fe. From the Norton Substation, the line would be routed toward Forest Service Road 24, where it would parallel the road until reaching an existing transmission line. The proposed new line would then parallel the existing line until it crosses onto laboratory property. The proposed route would not cross or run in parallel with any private property and would be located entirely on BLM, Forest Service, and DOE-managed land.
Neighboring Tribal governments and the public have had, and will continue to have, an important role in this project. We’ve gathered comments during May’s EPCU environmental assessment scoping period, as well as in government-to-government conversations, and we’ll continue to take those into account as we develop the project. Upon release of the draft environmental assessment, DOE will announce and begin a comment period, where members of the public, Tribal governments, and advocates for New Mexico’s rich cultural legacy and priceless natural beauty can provide their input. We’ve created a public webpage to inform stakeholders about the project at https://www.lanl.gov/environment/epcu/index.shtml
The Department of Energy values being a member of the Northern New Mexico community and is committed to engaging the laboratory’s neighbors. We stand ready to work together on this important national security project.