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Group Urges Public Comment on Desert Transmission Line

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Opposition mounts to a proposed transmission corridor through the Mojave Desert | Photo: Duke Energy/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A group of concerned residents of the Mojave Desert is urging the public to make their feelings known about a proposed transmission line that would run across 63 miles of the central Mojave Desert.

The Coolwater-Lugo Transmission Project would string two large transmission lines from the Coolwater Substation at Daggett to the Lugo Substation near I-15 south of Hesperia, zig-zagging through the Lucerne Valley and Apple Valley areas along the way.

Southern California Edison contends the lines are needed to augment transmission capacity between desert renewable energy facilities and Southern California cities. But the Apple Valley-based Alliance for Desert Preservation disputes that claim, saying that the project is designed to transmit power from renewable facilities in the east Mojave that may never be built.

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"Renewable energy is great -- when installed wisely," said Rich Ravana, the alliance's president. "But California has already hit the state's 33 percent renewable energy goal. This hasn't stopped Big Energy from lining up to scar the California desert with still more massive energy projects. How are they going to get all this electricity down the hill to the L.A. basin? That's where Coolwater-Lugo comes in -- the billion-dollar transmission boondoggle."

Edison says Coolwater-Lugo would carry power from the existing 250-megawatt Mojave Solar Project near Hinckley to Southern California customers, as well as power from facilities that are yet to be built. About 15 miles of the line would cross public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. That means the project requires an Environmental Impact Statement; release of a draft is expected later this year.

According to the California Public Utilities Commission, the reason for routing Coolwater-Lugo through Lucerne Valley is to make it possible to connect the line to Edison's not-yet-built Jasper Substation, proposed for the Lucerne Valley Area. Jasper Substation was itself proposed to connect the utility's grid to the 84-megawatt Granite Wind LLC Wind Energy Project, which was slated to arise in the mountains between Barstow and Lucerne Valley.

The wind energy project was canceled in August 2013. Despite the cancellation, however, Edison still plans to build the Jasper Substation just in case other renewable power plants are built in the area. On Edison's Jasper Substation project page, the utility says:

In other words, Coolwater-Lugo's proposed route was determined by the existence of a project that won't be built. Rather than use a shorter route down the Interstate 15 corridor, however, Coolwater-Lugo is still slotted through Lucerne Valley to allow connection to a substation that may never deliver any renewable energy to the grid.

The Alliance for Desert Preservation isn't the only group opposing Coolwater-Lugo. Other critics include the city and county of San Francisco, which opposed the project in comments submitted to the CPUC and California Energy Commission based on the project's likely cost -- estimated at $542 million in 2013, a cost to be borne by ratepayers -- and the existence of alternatives that would be both less expensive and less damaging to the environment.

One of those alternatives, the AV Clearview transmission project, would connect the Kramer substation (closer to the Mojave Solar Project) to the existing Vincent-Lugo transmission corridor by means of 42 miles of undergrounded transmission lines.

"The public has the right to straight answers from Edison to a long list of questions," said Ravana. "Why facilitate these big energy projects when we're already overshooting our renewable targets? What if these renewable projects never get built -- who pays for the Coolwater-Lugo white elephant? Why do Edison ratepayers have to pay the bill instead of the profit-making developers and utilities?"

The Bureau of Land Management and Edison will be holding a joint workshop to describe the project on September 16, at the Hilton Garden Inn Conference Center in Victorville. The workshop, which will include a period for public questions and answers, will run from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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