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Draw the path of renewable power line

14 August 2009 1,129 views No Comment

A new state report tries to tackle one of the touchiest issues in California’s effort to expand renewable power, suggesting possible routes for new transmission lines to carry electricity from wind farms and solar plants.
Power lines often generate intense opposition from environmentalists and landowners. But without new lines, the solar power plants and wind farms planned throughout California won’t be able to ship their electricity to the towns and cities that need it.

So several state agencies, electrical utilities, renewable power developers and environmental groups have joined together to figure out where to put new lines, hoping to prevent public fights. The effort, called the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative, released its latest report this week.

The report examines where transmission lines are needed most, will cost the least and will cause the least harm to the environment. It doesn’t recommend exact routes, nor does it specify how many lines must be built.

Instead, it presents options, suggesting broad pathways for lines that can link planned renewable power projects to the grid. Most of the proposed lines are in the Southern California desert, while one stretches to the Oregon border.

In concept at least, two lines would run through eastern Contra Costa and Alameda counties, while another would link Tracy to the South Bay. Building all the lines would cost $15.7 billion, but not all of them would need to be built.

“It gives us a sense, based on the environmental input and the economic input, where we should be concentrating our efforts,” said Jeffrey Byron, a member of the California Energy Commission, one of the state agencies involved. “We want to utilize existing wires and right-of-ways first, but we do know we’re going to need new transmission lines.”

Environment, economy
The initiative won’t prevent all power-line battles, participants say. But it does attempt to strike a balance between environmental and economic concerns in a way that could become a model for the rest of the country. President Obama has made upgrading and expanding the country’s electrical grid a key part of his energy plans.

“We’re transforming the way we power the economy. That’s an audacious thing to do,” said Carl Zichella, regional director for the Sierra Club, who is working on the transmission initiative. “And there are some people whose point of view is limited to their backyards. I think they have a valid point of view, but they don’t get a veto.”

The report uses as its starting point Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s goal of getting 33 percent of California’s electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020. It identifies places where large solar power plants, geothermal plants or wind farms have already been proposed, as well as areas where they are likely to be proposed in the future.

Together, those places could generate as much as 77,526 megawatts of electricity, more than all of California uses on a typical summer day. A megawatt is a snapshot figure, representing the amount of electricity flowing across the grid in an instant, and 1 megawatt is enough to power 750 homes.

Obstacles to transmission
The report examines possible routes for transmission lines to carry all that electricity. It also illustrates some of the obstacles. For example, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has proposed creating a national monument in the Southern California desert that would overlap some of the renewable energy zones studied in the report.

If created, the Mojave Desert National Monument could block the development of 11,700 megawatts of renewable power, according to the report.

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