Grassroots effort contributes to end of TANC project
In a victory for Northern California landowners, the major partners in the Transmission Agency of Northern California Transmission Project terminated plans for a massive, 600-mile transmission line system last week.
"The decision to terminate the TANC Transmission Project was the result of a true grassroots effort, which revealed the myriad of weaknesses in the proposal," said California Farm Bureau Federation Associate Counsel and Public Utilities Department Director Karen Norene Mills. "Everyone is to be commended who worked so hard to create a dialogue about the project."
The $1.5 billion, high-voltage power line project would have stretched from Lassen County to Stanislaus County and likely impacted several thousand miles of the rural landscape. Farmers and ranchers along the proposed power line route said the project would have significantly affected their operations.
Last Friday, a spokesman for the Western Area Power Administration—the agency responsible for preparing the project's environmental impact statement—said official steps were taken to end the project.
"We are canceling the preparation of the environmental impact statement. This project as it was proposed is not moving forward," said Public Affairs Specialist Randy Wilkerson. "For this (termination) to formally happen, we'll have to publish a notice in the Federal Register, so that is what we're doing."
The power administration, known as Western for short, decided to back out of the transmission project partnership following last Wednesday's vote of the TANC Commission to end the environmental review process, and ultimately the project, after several utility partners pulled out of the deal over concerns of cost-effectiveness. Western, an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that markets hydroelectric power, had partnered in the project with TANC, a collection of 15 publicly owned, nonprofit utilities operating throughout Northern California.
The TANC decision to terminate the transmission line project left Western without a proposal on which to prepare its environmental report. Western said it was a small player in the project, but all eyes were on the agency, waiting for its next move.
"The fear and the speculation out there was, 'The project looks like it is dead, but what is Western going to do?' We don't want to be seen as that agency because that is not the position we're in," Wilkerson said.
Those tracking the progress of the project realized it could be doomed to fail after several important financial partners opted out of the deal, including the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, Modesto Irrigation District and Turlock Irrigation District. The three agencies were expected to fund nearly two-thirds of the project.
As a result, TANC said last week that "without the financial support of key TANC utility members to proceed with this process, TANC cannot undertake a detailed environmental analysis of the proposed alternative routes. As such, the (transmission project) and the proposed alternative routes are no longer being considered."
Proponents said the project was intended 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.
Even though the transmission line project has ended, Mills said, potentially affected landowners should not file away their public comments.
"There is great interest in a new, major transmission line through Northern California, so do keep your concerns, contacts and other information in a readily accessible file," she said. "There is going to be consideration of a transmission line to be built through Northern California at some point."
Renewable energy transmission became a higher priority for the state of California last November, after Gov. 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.
"The increase in such a renewable energy target will drive the need for transmission beyond what would otherwise be needed for reliability purposes," Mills said.
In California, Wilkerson said, there is a need for enhanced reliability.
"With more and more demand, there is simply a need for transmission. So there is a need for transmission projects," Wilkerson said. "Where those projects might be located is the question and until you have a specific proposal nobody knows where that actually might be."
For Tehama County cattle producer Jackie Baker, the specifics of the TANC proposal represented a significant concern.
"It appears that the power line would have gone right over my house. I've lived here for 60 years and don't want to move," she said, adding that five generations of the Baker family have lived on the property for more than 100 years. "It might not have happened in my time, but we would like to save the house for the kids."
Baker said she is happy to know that the TANC plan has been terminated, but realizes that it might not be too long before another transmission line project is proposed for Northern California. Whenever that happens, Baker said, residents will remain prepared.
"I don't think we will lose the organization that we have now. This group has pulled together and fought together and I think that they will stay in touch," Baker said. "That is one good thing that has happened from this."
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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