Transmission line project proposed for North State
Oakdale rancher Bill Jackson is one of the scores of farmers and ranchers who would be impacted by the proposed route of electrical transmission lines. Inset photo, Jackson points to the route through his ranch, which has been in the family since the Gold Rush.
An ambitious plan involving a system of 600 miles of new and upgraded transmission lines and substations that would cut through thousands of acres of California farmland is being viewed with concern by farmers and ranchers whose property lies in the proposed path of the lines.
The goals of the Transmission Agency of Northern California's (TANC) proposed project are to improve the state's current transmission system and provide continued electric service to meet the needs of the state's growing population, as well as to increase access to renewable energy sources. Yet, farmers from Lassen to Stanislaus County say the project could have a significant impact on agriculture and the rural landscape.
"The agricultural community from the northeast corner of California through Central California and the Bay Area are extremely concerned about the proposed series of new transmission lines and the impact to existing agricultural operations," said Ned Coe, a Northern California rancher and California Farm Bureau Federation field representative.
"This project seems to be on a very fast track. Many landowners had very short notice with little detail before the meeting, even to possible routing. It is difficult as a landowner to be able to intelligently comment on proposals that are still quite vague, but will be going to environmental study levels by this summer," Coe said.
TANC, a collection of 15 publicly owned, nonprofit utilities operating throughout Northern California, is partnering in the proposed transmission line project with the Western Area Power Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that markets hydroelectric power. The two recently held a series of public scoping meetings to inform the public about the project.
Sixth-generation farmer Bill Jackson, a diversified grower from Oakdale who attended the Turlock meeting, has very serious concerns about the project and its impact on his farming operation.
"One of the paths that they are looking at comes right through our property," said Jackson, of Jackson Rodden Family Ranches, who grows walnuts, almonds, winegrapes, and raises cattle. "The bottom line is it does impact your revenue stream if you are unable to develop it to its fullest potential and there's always added costs when you have to work around these structures."
For Jackson, the proposed TANC project could likely impact 70 acres of prime farmland on his property, plus that of his neighbors. Also, Jackson, whose family has resided in Oakdale since the Gold Rush days, already has one transmission line owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company that runs through his farm.
"The PG&E line that was put in back in the 1940s or early 1950s was never a big deal when I was running cattle, but now that I'm farming tree crops it has become more of an issue," Jackson said. "PG&E basically clear cut the land, especially my walnut trees. This proposed line is going to bring similar issues, plus they are going to take more ground that I've developed.
"This creates problems as far as designing of irrigation lines and roads, and I'm sure I've got structures that are probably going to be in the way that will have to be moved or removed. This will be very disruptive," he said.
Jackson is not opposed to updating the state's utility infrastructure, but he is opposed to all of the disruptions that such a project brings, especially when another line already runs through his farmland.
"We don't mind doing our part, but it isn't my first choice to have it on my property," he said. "If TANC was to look at beefing up the existing line with PG&E and have that partnership, maybe that serves everybody well."
Outside of Stanislaus County, other counties potentially affected by the proposed transmission line include Lassen, Shasta, Tehama, Glenn, Butte, Colusa, Sutter, Yuba, Yolo, Sacramento, Solano, San Joaquin, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara.
Yolo County farmer Stan Lester echoed Coe's comments regarding lack of information by TANC and short notice of the project and deadline to comment.
"For as large a project as this is, the notification of landowners was handled really terribly. Everybody is frustrated because we can't get information and what we are getting is, 'We'll get back to you,'" Lester said. "We don't have any detailed maps, so if you don't have the information, how can you ask or make intelligent comments?"
Karen Norene Mills, CFBF associate counsel and Public Utilities Department director, said transmission projects like the one presented by TANC is one of several in store for California. Last fall, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order to streamline California's renewable energy project approval process and increase the state's renewable energy standard to 33 percent renewable power by 2020. Plus all utilities have requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase the amount of energy that accounts for qualified renewable resources, she said.
At this stage in the process, TANC and Western Area Power Administration are working to prepare the California Environmental Quality Act compliance or environmental review process that is required by the state and federal government.
"Under the environmental review process, we have to look at the potential impacts of our proposed project. We need to identify and analyze any alternatives to our proposed project that could reduce and/or mitigate any significant impacts," said TANC spokesman Patrick Mealoy. "Where there are environmental impacts, we need to recommend mitigation measures for them."
Now that the public scoping meetings have concluded, landowners have until April 30 to provide written comments on the proposed project.
"CFBF will be providing over-arching comments that are applicable to the very broad range of agricultural interests this line could affect, but I would encourage individual operations who may be impacted by the line to be specific about the impacts," Mills said. "Keep in mind the disruption that occurs during construction, so explaining the timing constraints relative to an operation can better inform the process and collection of information about the impacts."
Once written comments are received, they will be compiled and summarized in a scoping report that will be publicly available.
Send written comments to David Young, NEPA Document Manager, Western Area Power Administration, Sierra Nevada Region, 114 Parkshore Dr., Folsom, CA 95630, or e-mail comments to TTPEIS@wapa.gov.
For more information, visit www.tanc.us.
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.