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Mega power line project hits snag as SMUD takes second look

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POSTED July 7, 2009 1:48 a.m.

RIPON – A proposed renewable power project that could slash through portions of Mistlin Sports Park and a residential housing development has lost one of its principal backers.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District – one of the largest supporters of the Transmission Agency of Northern California’s effort to construct more than 600 miles of high-power transmission lines through the majority of the north state – announced last week that it’s pulling out of the project, citing feasibility as the main reason.

With a price tag of $1.5 billion, the project – which was supposed to tap into renewable power resources in rural areas like Lassen and Shasta Counties in order to serve the 15 organizations that make up TANC’s membership – ran into early problems from landowners and farmers concerned about the encroachment that the massive 500 kV lines would have on their properties.

Municipal power providers have been searching for ways to ensure that 33 percent of their overall load delivered to residents comes from renewable sources – which California state law requires by 2020. Geothermal features in rural Lassen County, where hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the area annually, as well as wind-generating stations at places like Shasta County’s Round Mountain have made the area a major focal point for TANC officials.

But without SMUD – which serves as one of the arterial thoroughfares for the high-power lines as well as one of the big financial backers that would have made the project possible – the feared impacts in places like Ripon, Manteca, and Modesto have been sidelined at least temporarily.
“You enter in these long term big projects and, in the scoping and the planning phases, the purpose is to determine the feasibility and the fit for your utility,” said Elisabeth Brinton, a Sacramento Municipal Utility District spokeswoman, to a Turlock Journal reporter. “It came to the point where we felt that proceeding at this time was not in the interest of our customers.”

Ripon Planning Director Ken Zuidervaart immediately began following the project when he first attended a meeting where preliminary lines – drawn based on an old map – went right through a portion of town that had already either been developed or slated for construction.

The massive 100-plus foot pylons that support the wires call for a large easement that landowners feared would have impacted their farming operations – something that was only intensified by the fact that orchard trees had to be cut back to allow for the safe and easy passing of wires.
Ripon City Attorney Tom Terpstra was charged with preparing a letter that would be submitted to TANC after their public input period was extended through the end of July – a letter that would have taken the unanimous tone of the City Council who wanted absolutely nothing to do with the TANC project.

All of the scoping meetings planned for July have been canceled while TANC administrators decide on how best to proceed with the project. An announcement will be made on their website –  when a final decision has been made.

To contact Jason Campbell, e-mail, or call (209) 249-3544.

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