By Royston Sim –
TANC, which is composed of 15 municipal utilities, halted planning for its transmission program after three of the five utilities involved pulled out of funding the program. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which was supposed to fund 35 percent or 525 million dollars of the program, announced its decision to pull out on July 1. The Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts, which together accounted for another 35 percent, pulled out on July 14. A loss of 70 percent in funding meant the TANC project simply could not continue.
Udris did not elaborate on why SMUD decided to pull its funding for the project.
The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) announced July 20 that it has canceled preparation of an environmental impact statement for the power line. The program will be removed from the federal register, and is, for all intents and purposes, effectively dead and gone.
The Vanguard spoke to Yolo County Supervisors Jim Provenza and Matt Rexroad, and both said they were in favor of renewable energy projects. Yet, the TANC project provoked a deluge of fierce criticism and fiery opposition from local officials and residents once it was made public. In actuality, the project had already begun to run off the rails from the moment TANC first began planning for the line in October 2005.
Here are some reasons why the TANC project went wrong:
Failure to involve local officials and the public in its planning process
TANC should have consulted local officials and the general public in areas where it planned to route its lines through. It did not. In the case of Yolo County, TANC did not contact any county supervisor. Provenza said he first heard about the project when contacted by the Davis Enterprise, while Rexroad learned of the project from Bob Schneider, senior policy director at Tuleyome.
Provenza said TANC claimed to have sent some sort of notice to a lower-level employee, but said that was not the way to go about notifying local officials.
Rexroad said there was a “huge cloud of secrecy” surrounding the TANC project.
“They were well on their way. They were dividing up huge chunks of Yolo County without any sort of information to us,” Rexroad said. “Before they were talking about running 50 miles of power lines through Yolo County, they could have talked to the Board of Supervisors, they could have talked to the people of Davis, and actually we might even have been able to help them.”
All three proposed alternative routes for the project would cut through Yolo County, with one route placed directly east of the city of Davis. Four to 10 transmission line towers would be built per linear mile of power line, and each would stand up to 150 feet high and cover up to 2,000 square feet at the base. The towers would change the landscape environment, affect land use and threaten delicate ecological areas in Yolo County.
Davis Community Development director Katherine Hess said city officials received a vague proposal from TANC very early, but there was no further communication till they read about the project in the newspaper and contacted TAMC.
“They came out with these draft drawings and nobody knew where they came from, what they were proposing, why they were proposing those,” Hess said. “And they didn’t give people an opportunity to talk about it early in the process.”
Nora Shimoda, a journalist/media strategist and member of the Davis/Yolo County Ad Hoc Coalition opposing TANC, wrote in an op-ed for the Sacramento Press:
“No notification to local governments, or very vague notification, of lines going over city and county owned properties. No notification to school districts (the proposed central 2 line was directly across the street from Harper Jr. High in Davis).
TANC should have worked with the public and city and county governments to develop route criteria before issuing proposed routes.”
Had TANC involved the public in its planning process from the beginning, it would probably have received far less opposition and might even have succeeded.
Poor planning, lack of transparency and an inability to justify the project once it was made public
Rexroad labeled TANC staff as “incompetent”. Aside from losing the public’s trust by failing to notify and consult with them, TANC also suffered from a poor planning process.
El Macero resident Matt Williams said TANC used outdated maps in their planning. One map did not have the El Macero area completely built out.
“In the world of Google Earth and all those sorts of things, they seemed to have their minds in a time warp,” Williams said.
In a letter published on the Vanguard, Schneider from Tuleyome said consideration of the TANC project should be combined with consideration of other transmission line projects to ensure both the state’s and public’s interests are served in identifying and approving only the best alternatives. Yet, at no point did that happen.
TANC conducted insufficient public scoping meetings that did not adequately address residents’ concerns. Additionally, the agency failed to articulate a necessity for the project and prove it was viable.
“They failed to show there was a problem that this proposal was a solution for,” Rexroad said.
Schneider said TANC simply did not make their case. TANC also failed to provide engineering, economic and environmental studies as requested by the public, despite the fact that in presentations the agency has often referred to a variety of background studies that have supposedly been prepared for the project.
In his letter, Schneider wrote:
“Statements continue to be made that this project is primarily about renewable energy, but there is little or no substantiation for such statements.
We are told that many energy generating companies are “ready to go” in the Lassen CREZ but that they need transmission capacity. Which companies are those, and what is their level of commitment? Why would it not be presumed that these companies would favor the use of other transmission lines that are being considered in California, rather than the TANC project?”
The lack of transparency in this project did nothing to improve TANC’s standing with the public.
A January final report from California’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) ranked Lassen County as among the least cost-effective and environmentally benign competitive renewable energy zone (CREZ) among the 30 potential sites studied. Lassen County also ranked at the bottom of the list for renewable energy, with the top sites all situated in southern California.
“This particular project scored very low on both the environment and economics, so it wasn’t clear at all if it was a viable project,” Provenza said.
El Macero Homeowners Association president Stephen Cole said TANC simply lacked credibility, and the three main reasons they provided for the project were invalid.
The transmission lines were slated to improve reliability, but Cole said the system was already reliable and the program would not have increased reliability. The second reason was to relieve congestion, but Cole said there was no congestion north of Bakersfield. TANC’s final reason — to obtain renewable energy from Lassen County – was questionable after RETI report ranking Lassen County at the bottom among CREZs.
Despite the findings of the study, TANC still proceeded with its plans and failed to provide studies of its own to prove the contrary.
Unfair distribution of benefit and burden
Shimoda’s op-ed brought up this issue, as she wrote:
“It is bad public policy to place lines in communities where there is no access to the energy provided and making these communities bear all of the negative burdens, while the cities that benefit suffer no impacts.
There are existing rights of way, possibilities of co-location and as much non-densely populated areas in Sacramento where lines could have been placed. If they truly were alternate routes, why do all 3 run through Yolo County and none through Sacramento?
All of the lines are generally in the same area. It is a lose-lose situation for many communities, and win-win for many cities that would receive the power and no burden of negative impacts.”
Rexroad shared that sentiment.
“We had all the burden, and none of the benefit,” he said. The TANC project placed transmission lines on the Yolo County side of the Sacramento River instead of having those lines on the eastern side of the river on SMUD territory.
“If you’re going to think of eminent domain as a great idea and come into Yolo County and use eminent domain, then you got to run it through your own property first before coming onto ours.” Rexroad said.
Provenza said the transmission lines affected none of the collaborating utility districts. This project was designed so that the impact would be on people who did not receive any benefit from the project if it worked out.
There is a need for renewable energy, but TANC’s project went awry because it failed to involve politicians and the public from the start. It probably routed the lines through Yolo County expecting less resistance, but did not account for the fierce opposition from citizens and the Yolo County board of supervisors.
By failing to justify its project, TANC further eroded what little trust the public had in the agency to begin with. Insufficient accountability and transparency eventually led to a breakdown in funding and collapse of the project, much to the delight of its critics. Yet residents like Cole, who is also a strategist for the Yolo County Ad Hoc Coalition, are not taking things easy just yet.
“We’re continuing work,” said Cole. “Because somebody else is going to rear their ugly head and want to do something similar.”
Roystom Sim is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin in Journalism. He is currently an intern for the Vanguard.