Edison, LADWP Reviewing Transmission Corridor Policies

By Published On: October 19, 2007

Under pressure from elected officials, as well as urban open space and watershed restoration advocates, Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power are reviewing their policies on “secondary uses” of transmission rights of way in and around Los Angeles. Edison hopes to soon resolve “statutory concerns” surrounding the planned use of Proposition 40 and 50 funds to create parks and restore watercourses in Los Angeles County along transmission corridors, said David Van Iderstine, Edison director of local governmental affairs. The bonds provide money for parks and river restoration projects to enhance the state’s water resources. Immediately at issue is a plan by the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy to build $10 million worth of parks with bond money (Circuit, Oct. 5, 2007). They are part of a plan to create a 17-mile long “emerald necklace” of greenways on the banks of the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo Rivers in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, an area that is home to two million people east of Los Angeles. However, the projects have been on hold since the utility instituted a new policy on secondary uses in March of 2006. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power halted sale of land it owns until it can inventory its holdings and make decisions about their “highest and best” uses, which will not be based solely on monetary considerations, said David Nahai, department president. In some cases, he said, it may be appropriate to sell or lease parcels for as little as a dollar to create park space in poor neighborhoods that lack open space. The utility executives spoke at an October 17 symposium in Los Angeles on secondary uses of electrical transmission corridors. The conservancy and a number of environmental groups organized the meeting, which was sponsored by The Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council. Despite assurances from Edison that it will work to enable the park plan to go forward, the conservancy–a state agency–has been frustrated in trying to strike a deal, said Belinda Faustinos, its executive officer. “The terms and conditions we’ve been faced with so far are just not acceptable to the state of California,” said Faustinos. At issue are little known changes Edison made to its secondary use policy in 2006 that eliminated long-term leases for uses in its rights of way. In their place, the utility now offers only five-year use licenses, which can be revoked with 30 days notice and without cause, explained Van Iderstine. The policy changes prohibit any structures from being built, even such things as permanent fences or baseball backstops. Edison further requires license applicants to pay the cost of “sag calcs.” The utility performs these calculations to see how much the lines can be expected to sag during hot weather and determine if necessary clearances with plants on the ground can be maintained to prevent fires or shorts, explained Van Iderstine. The charges–which can total $40,000 or more if the sag must be calculated for cable spans between several towers–will remain in place for another two years, he said, until the company finishes a system-wide assessment of sag factors for its transmission network. Another hurdle for the emerald necklace plan is that Edison’s planned Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project would run through the location for one of the parks at an old duck farm. Towers for the 500 kV line appeared to take up half the land that would be included in the park on a map Faustinos showed at the meeting. The conservancy wants the company to run the line underground through the park. It would move up to 4,500 MW of wind power into the utility’s service territory from projects planned in the Tehachapi Mountains Van Iderstine said that it would cost at least $10 million a mile to put it underground. The cost would be high, he explained, because it is difficult to build high voltage lines underground and keep them cool. Bill Grady, district director for Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA), said that Edison set its new secondary use policy after it terminated leases with stables along existing transmission lines in San Gabriel Valley in favor of leases with companies interested in building public storage units. The company did so, he said, because it could obtain higher rents from the public storage companies than from stable operators. In response, he said, residents went to their elected representatives who intervened and got Edison to agree to halt the practice of leasing land under the lines for public storage facilities. However, companies that signed leases prior to the March 2006 secondary use policy still can build public storage facilities if they haven’t already. In a written statement read at the meeting, Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA) offered to facilitate talks to resolve the brewing conflict between Edison and open space advocates. Van Iderstine said that company would participate in the discussions and hopes to resolve the issue soon.

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