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County residents speak out against transmission project

POSTED June 30, 2009 11:02 p.m.
A room full of angry citizens greeted the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning, as dozens gathered to speak out against the planned Transmission Agency of Northern California Transmission Project.
The mammoth electrical power project looks to install more than 600 miles of high-voltage transmission lines across Northern California. Should the project proceed to completion in 2014, the TANC Transmission Project would link the Turlock Irrigation District to renewable energy sources around the state and improve reliability of the power grid.
However, the proposed routes for the TTP high-voltage lines, whose power poles can be 150 feet tall and 200 feet wide, cut through prime farmland and residential areas throughout northern Stanislaus County.
“We actually found out about it (the TTP) after they had closed their public comment period,” said Robert Cushing, an almond grower who farms 100 acres east of Oakdale. “That’s how poorly they had planned this out.”
Cushing lamented the fact that the projected plan called for the brunt of the TTP’s impacts to be borne by agriculture. Even worse, the TTP would not benefit his farm, as the Oakdale Irrigation District is not a member of TANC.
The TTP is a joint effort from the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, Modesto Irrigation District, the Cites of Redding and Santa Clara, and TID. Just over $30 million has been spent on planning the project so far, of which TID is responsible for 12 percent of the costs.
Should a decision be made to proceed with building the TTP, approximately $1.2 billion would be spent, about $144 million of which would be provided by TID.
According to Patrick Mealoy, operations manager for TANC, the costs are justified to benefit utilities that, “For years have been held captive by not having transmission of their own.” No major transmission lines have been built in Northern California since 1993.
The TTP is still in its earliest stages, currently undergoing the project scoping period that kicks off the environmental process. In response to an outpouring of opposition and complaints that the scoping period was too brief, the deadline for comments was extended for a full 90 days to July 30.
Additionally, two new steps were added to the planned environmental study to address concerns, a collaborative stakeholder process and an alternatives screening report. The alternatives screening report, due in late 2009 or early 2010, will consider suggestions such as constructing the TTP in existing high-voltage corridors, making use of underground direct current transmission rather than high-voltage alternating current lines, and reconstructing existing power lines to achieve better transmission rates.
A draft Environmental Impact Report, which will contain a final plan for the TTP, is expected in 2011 or 2012. No decision will be made on whether or not to construct the project until this time.
By the time the final revisions of the TTP plan are submitted, Mealoy expects routes will be determined that landowners can be happy with. The currently proposed paths are vast, 1,000 foot-wide swaths, of which only 200 feet will be used.
“The routes shown are preliminary,” Mealoy said. “I do expect there will be modifications and refinements as we move forward.”
Mealoy also stated that, should the project go forward, TANC has made a commitment to avoid impacting any residential buildings.
Some development, like the TTP, could be unavoidable going forward, as all utilities will be required to source 33 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020 according to new state laws.
The proposed TTP route would access as much as 85 percent of the identified renewable energy areas in Northern California. Two sites in Lassen County and an area near Round Mountain are projected to be directly attached to the TTP, while another area in Solano County is just a few miles from one proposed TTP route.
However, some counties aren’t quite sure about the massive development. The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors has spoken out against the TTP, while the Yolo County Board of Supervisors is also eyeing the project with some suspicion.
District 1 Supervisor Bill O’Brien requested the TANC presentation on Tuesday in response to an Oakdale constituent’s concerns about the new development. Since then, he’s been “learning as much as I can about electricity as fast as I can.”
O’Brien calmly questioned the costs and motivations of the project — which he sees as using renewable energy as a front to sell energy to other utilities — at Tuesday’s meeting, but appeared shocked upon learning that TANC has eminent domain authority, even outside of the areas they represent.
“Now that’s scary,” O’Brien said.
Comments about the TTP can be left online at www.wapa.gov/transmission/ttp.htm, e-mailed to TTPEIS@wapa.gov or mailed to Mr. David Young, NEPA Document Manager, Western Area Power Administration, 114 Parkshore Dr., Folsom, CA 95630.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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