Tucson Electric Power Co. and Citizens Communications Co. have asked the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) to extend its Dec. 31, 2003, deadline for completion of a transmission line project in southern Arizona.

TEP and Citizens have encountered delays beyond their control while pursuing federal approval for a 345-kV transmission line linking Tucson to the Santa Cruz County electric system owned by Citizens. The ACC has determined the line is needed to provide more reliable electric service in Nogales, Arizona, and TEP has agreed to help Citizens satisfy that mandate.

The preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project has proceeded more slowly than anticipated due to changes in the scope of the study and other delays created by federal agencies involved in the review. The fire-related closure of the Coronado National Forest during the summer of 2002 also delayed the project.

Because of these delays, the companies have asked the ACC to extend its deadline and waive any penalties associated with missing the original completion date. In its original order, the ACC said it would consider setting a new deadline if Citizens encountered delays because of "circumstances beyond its reasonable control."

The ACC has issued a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility that would allow TEP to build the transmission line on a route that passes through federal land southwest of Tucson. TEP and Citizens are now seeking necessary approvals from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The DOE is expected to release a draft of the EIS soon. After preparing a final version of that report, the DOE also will decide whether to issue a Presidential Permit that would allow TEP to extend the line across the international border into Sonora, Mexico.

TEP's parent company, UniSource Energy Corp., is preparing to finalize its purchase of gas and electric systems from Citizens, including the electric system in Nogales. When that transaction is completed later this month, UniSource Energy will be responsible for complying with the ACC's order regarding this project.