Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Do We Need Another Transmission Line in the High Desert?

Southern California Edison (SCE) is planning to invest upwards of one billion dollars in new transmission lines through Lucerne Valley, connecting substations in the Barstow area to Hesperia.  Never mind that the utility already has three existing major transmission pathways through the region, in addition to lines owned by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).  SCE argues in its application to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that the "Coolwater-Lugo" transmission upgrade is needed to alleviate a bottleneck on the lines running from Kramer Junction to Hesperia, and to provide interconnection for up to 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy development.

Although some of the new line would run along an existing transmission corridor, the utility would add nearly 15 miles of lines along a new corridor following Barstow Road before veering northwest to join another LADWP corridor, further entangling otherwise scenic desert with industrial-scale development.

If the California Public Utilities Commission put the cost of the new transmission line toward energy efficiency or distributed generation incentives, the line probably would not be necessary.  One billion dollars could buy millions of LED light bulbs or other energy efficiency improvements, equalling an electricity savings that is greater than the added generation SCE foresees flowing through the proposed transmission line.

It is also unclear if the new transmission line can still alleviate much of the bottleneck at Kramer Junction if SCE connects a bunch of utility-scale projects in Lucerne Valley, but the better question is what utility-scale projects does SCE think it will connect with this new line?   Wind and solar projects in the far western Mojave near the Tehachapi Mountains are mostly connecting to separate transmission lines feeding Los Angeles.

The Lucerne Valley and points east of Barstow are unlikely to see a significant expansion in utility-scale projects.  The Granite Mountain Wind project between Apple Valley and Lucerne Valley was cancelled because the project would threaten golden eagles; other wind applications proposed for the area would face a similar challenge.  The Calico Solar project proposed for pristine desert habitat east of Barstow was cancelled, and the area is now a solar exclusion zone.  Most solar projects proposed for the Lucerne Valley area are distributed generation; they are smaller projects that feed the local grid and do not require the new 220 kilo volt lines being proposed by SCE.

At the end of the day, the proposed  Coolwater-Lugo Transmission line through the Lucerne Valley may be an unnecessary cost to ratepayers,  destroy more desert habitat, and add visual blight to a corner of the desert that remains free of transmission lines.

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