The smell of the night's specials hung in the air as a group of Washington officials waited in a Sacramento hotel room last fall to hear from the public on how to create federal energy corridors. With visions of gleaming energy superhighways in its head, Congress gave them two years to designate the corridors when it passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The clock ticked as the officials sat at the head of the room. But nobody came that night. Instead, Californians were working on alternative ways of satisfying energy demand. And those didn't include building coal power plants and a thousand miles of transmission lines into Los Angeles and San Francisco from the Rockies. The federal corridor strategy is just about as outmoded as building more freeways through cities to relieve traffic jams. It's just about as unrealistic too. Federal energy officials instead need to borrow a page or two from transportation planners focused on how to reduce the demand for freeways. Otherwise, the proposed corridors through national parks and wilderness areas are likely to amount to nothing more than a dizzying array of lines on a map. The federal government does, of course, own 46 percent of the land in California, enough to create a lot of energy corridors. However, the corridors will have to be closely coordinated with state, county, and city governments. And let's not forget private landholders who own 51 percent of the land in the state. But the catch is that there is no good way to coordinate these parties with their varying interests. A bill, SB 1059 by Senator Martha Escutia (D-Whittier), would make this coordination easier. It would give the CEC the authority to require cities and counties to amend their general plans to incorporate transmission corridors that it identifies. However, city and county officials, always zealous to guard their sole power over local land use, fought the measure off last year (Circuit, Jan. 7, 2006). Perhaps the bill will make it this year, but if the feds hold to the schedule set by Congress, they will be long done designating federal energy corridors before the CEC can even get started. Even then, it is questionable whether transmission corridors are so important that lawmakers should further centralize authority in Sacramento. There also are doubts about how many transmission lines and pipelines actually would be built in the corridors. Like the dozens of power plants pending construction in California and tens more large coal power plants planned throughout the West, many of the proposed lines are redundant. Take, for instance, the competing plans to transmit renewable energy from the Imperial Valley to San Diego. California Public Utilities Commission president Michael Peevey this week told the Senate Energy Committee that San Diego Gas & Electric's Sunrise Powerlink from the Imperial Valley to San Diego won't be needed if the Imperial Irrigation District and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power build their parallel Green Path. Finally, relying on a network of new fossil-fuel power plants and transmission lines is not a good way to meet California's energy needs. Instead, energy agencies should give as much weight to new efficiency technologies and smaller-scale renewables projects that are closer to where the power is needed. This week, for instance, the California Energy Commission began developing ambitious standards that would require new homes and buildings beginning in 2008 to come equipped with smart lighting fixtures and thermostats for heaters and air conditioners. Utilities could commandeer the devices by radio signal to reduce energy use during times of peak demand. In arid San Diego Gas & Electric territory, the San Diego County Water Authority is pushing incentives for installation of sprinkler system controls it can operate by radio signals from its headquarters. Pumping water is perhaps the single biggest use of power in the state and people are overwatering, so using less saves energy. The CPUC may soon authorize utilities to install advanced meters in homes and businesses. Coupled with time-sensitive pricing for electricity, the meters would give customers the information they need to trim their usage in order to save money on utility bills. These are economical technologies that are easily within grasp, compared to the grand schemes to build billion-dollar coal power plants and accompanying transmission lines. Meanwhile, the CPUC's $2.5 billion California Solar Initiative subsidy program is expected to create up to 3,000 MW of new solar-powered generation in the state from 2007 to 2017 (Circuit, Jan. 13, 2006). This will go a ways toward meeting future needs while providing new jobs for Californians without tearing through Western wilderness. Sure, some new transmission facilities will be needed, but these other rapidly developing technologies are eclipsing the concept of energy superhighways. That's why California simply should not seek to duplicate the federal push for energy corridors with its own connecting state corridors. Instead, it should stay focused on the new technologies that will make more efficient use of resources. Transportation planners are seeking to make better use of the existing highway system by creating jobs closer to where people live, creating programs to encourage telecommuting, teleconferencing, and carpooling, and adding new flexible bus services before adding new freeways. California energy agencies must do the same and judge each new transmission line and pipeline on its merits, compared to the full range of alternatives that the new efficiency and renewable technologies are making possible.