The California Public Utilities Commission on March 12 certified an electric transmission line project that would permanently alter lush farmland near a disadvantaged community, but potentially reduce the need to turn on natural gas-fired power generation plants near the community as well.
Southern California Edison would install a new 230-kV transmission line along the Santa Ana River that would "permanently convert prime farmland, unique farmland and farmland of statewide importance to non-agricultural uses," the CPUC said in its decision. The commission in a proposed decision granted SCE a certificate of public convenience and necessity to construct about 10 miles of the new transmission line, along with a 230-kV substation, in order to serve customers in the City of Riverside with more power. The decision would put the lines underground as long as Jurupa Valley agrees to an easement stopping the city from later moving them.
Representatives of the City of Jurupa Valley said the new transmission line would travel through a portion of their city that has been designated a disadvantaged community, thereby subjecting the community to "disproportionate environmental, economic and social burdens," according to the proposed decision.
But without the added transmission line, the CPUC said that Riverside Public Utilities might decide to increase natural gas-fired generation in the area in order to support peak demand. Adding gas generation, along with new battery energy storage units, would result in "significant and unavoidable impacts to air quality as compared to any other project alternative," the CPUC said.
The new power line would also make existing gas-fired power generation units at the Riverside Energy Resource Center available for California Independent System Operator market dispatch. The City of Riverside in 2011 built two new generation units with about 95 MW of combined capacity. These units were intended to generate power to serve peak loads and to meet the city's increasing demand, which has exceeded the capacity of its 560-MW transformers every year since 2006, except for in 2008 during the economic recession, according to the CPUC. Furthermore, Riverside representatives forecast that the city's system peak load will continue to increase over the next 20 years.
Riverside is currently served by 69-kV subtransmission lines that start at the Vista Substation, which is the city's single point of interconnection to the CAISO-controlled grid, according to the CPUC. No other similarly sized load-serving entity has a single point of interconnection at this low voltage level, the commission said.
The CPUC said that the benefits of providing CAISO with additional generation resources, such as the gas-fired units at the Riverside plant, outweighs the proposed transmission line project's negative environmental and aesthetic impacts.
But representatives from Jurupa Valley argued that the project is infeasible not only because of its environmental impacts, but also because the new facilities will financially harm the community. The new power line will result in the loss of more than 830 jobs and limit development opportunities along the nearby interstate highway, city representatives told the commission. Additionally, they said the line will "deter people from living, working and developing businesses in Jurupa Valley, depriving the community of needed tax revenue to provide essential public services," according to the proposed decision.
However, the commission said the project would not create a negative financial impact on Jurupa Valley, citing a study by SCE that presented "compelling evidence of numerous examples of commercial, industrial and mixed-use developments near overhead transmission lines."
It has been 10 years since the project, known as the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project, was originally proposed. The cost of the project has increased fivefold since then, and could be about $521 million, according to SCE. The project includes equipment that would be owned and operated separately by Riverside Public Utilities and SCE.