TANC project fuels scrutiny, skepticism

By Union Democrat staff June 08, 2009 04:36 pm

There’s good news and bad when it comes to TANC, the Transmission Agency of Northern California.

First the bad: TANC, an agency most of us had never heard of until about a month ago, is proposing to build and upgrade a 600-mile network of high-voltage transmission lines throughout Northern California. The project includes a 28-mile swath running from the New Melones Dam to a substation near Oakdale. Over it, transmission towers would carry 230,000-volt lines.

It won’t be pretty. And it certainly won’t be invisible, as much of the route runs near or along Highway 108. The spectre of 100-foot-high transmission towers bisecting the now pristine ranch lands that lead drivers into the foothills has already spurred a letter of concern from the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors.

Then the good news: The power line project is still in relative infancy. Environmental review is still under way, routes can be moved, and vigilance on the part of Tuolumne and other affected communities could still yield an effective, but far less intrusive project.

At present, construction is scheduled to begin in 2012 and conclude two years later. But, being a federal project, it could take much longer.

TANC is owned cooperatively by numerous California cities and special districts that rely wholly or in part on power produced by federal projects like New Melones. The electricity is marketed by the Western Area Power Association, a part of the Department of Energy and a partner in the power lines.

The sprawling transmission project is designed to increase reliability and capacity and reduce congestion and power loss. In addition, it would tie together a number of energy sources, including planned geothermal, solar and wind plants in far Northern California. Federal stimulus funds would cover a large portion of the job’s estimated $1.5 billion cost.

The project goals are admirable, but negative impacts in Tuolumne County will almost certainly outweigh the positive.

The board’s May 12 letter points out that the lines will insinuate themselves into “a virtually unblemished view of ranch land” flanking Highway 108 and that “the open range is a welcome change for urban dwellers that visit our county.”

Not only would the towers and wires affect tourism, supervisors contend, but could hurt prospects for movie filming, hinder agricultural operations and even affect approaches to the Columbia and Pine Mountain Lake airports.

Supervisors have suggested that TANC instead explore locating its new lines on the same route as an existing PG&E line to the Oakdale area.

If Tuolumne County’s was the lone voice of dissent, prospects for project changes would be dim. But we are not alone.

Anti-TANC, a coalition of power line foes, notes opposition from agricultural organizations such as the California Farm Bureau and the California Cattlemen’s Association. It also reports that TANC had received more than 2,000 comments on the project as of May 20.

Opposition has compelled TANC to extend the deadline for filing environmental comments on the project 60 days, until July 30.

Anti-TANC’s Web site also includes concerns, complaints and news reports from Chico, Gridley, Sacramento, Davis, Livermore, Oakdale and other communities in or near the project route.

It’s still early, but Tuolumne County has positioned itself well to positively influence the project’s direction as it moves forward. The key now is to remain informed and vigilant.