Western Utilities Propose Transmission, Pipeline Paths
Arthur O'Donnell, special to Greenwire, February 3, 2006

Western utilities and other groups have proposed hundreds of "energy corridors" for electric transmission and natural gas pipelines in 11 states under a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Among more than 220 comments filed with the Energy Department in response to recent public meetings on the corridor plan are requests by energy companies, utilities and renewable resource advocates urging formal corridor designations to accommodate dozens of existing and proposed energy delivery facilities.

DOE and other agencies are developing a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) to consider expansion of the existing system of energy corridors that run through federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The intent is to overcome permitting issues or delays for critical facilities.

"The problem in the West is that the federal government has such a big presence," said Armand Perez, vice president of planning and infrastructure for the California Independent System Operator. "If you go any distance at all, to get from point A to point B, you have to cross federal lands."

The process is currently focused on the West. A separate effort will begin later to deal with similar issues elsewhere. The agencies last autumn held 11 public meetings across the West to solicit comments on what issues the government needs to address as it considers designation of new or expanded corridors to eliminate congestion and enhance the region's ability to bring fuel and power resources to market.

In a report to Congress late last year, the agencies said there are about 66 BLM resource management plans that currently include designated transmission and distribution corridors, while the Forest Service has identified 317 corridors through its land and resource management plans. According to the agencies, there are at least 59 applications pending for additional corridor designations. All told, these corridors represent nearly 6,000 rights-of-way for energy delivery facilities that are coming up for renewal over the next 15 years.

If the proposals made during the PEIS are an indication, the agencies will be facing a flood of newer proposals for lines that cross their boundaries.

The agencies released a preliminary report on scoping this week that summarizes many of the issues raised during the public meetings, including corridor selection, land-use concerns, environmental issues and tribal considerations.

Julia Souder, project manager for DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, said the agency has not yet proposed a list of new energy corridors but expects to do so when it releases a draft PEIS in November.

Existing BLM and Forest Service corridors are concentrated in the most northern and southeastern portions of California, reflecting paths where major interstate high-voltage transmission systems and gas pipelines cross federal lands. However, if all of the newly proposed pathways for federal corridor designation were approved, what is currently a rather limited area of special consideration would become a massive cross-hatch of corridors.

The California Energy Commission, acting as a cooperating agency in the federal PEIS process, has produced a map that consolidates proposals from a dozen utilities, pipeline companies and others who proposed specific paths within the state for federal designation. "It's cross-veined all over the state," said Jim Bartridge of the CEC's siting division.

The proposed corridors do not necessarily relate to specific projects or facilities, and in many cases are rather broadly defined pathways for possible federal designation.

For instance, Pacific Gas & Electric has proposed 11 new transmission paths or pipeline routes as federal energy corridors, in addition to key existing pathways, like the Pacific AC Intertie. Southern California Edison offered at least seven new areas for potential power lines through national forests or preserves, and a dozen existing transmission paths. San Diego Gas & Electric recommended a concentrated area of Southern California for designation that would bolster its ability to access new renewable resources in Imperial County and natural gas from proposed LNG ports in Baja, Mexico.

SDG&E's parent Sempra Corp. also urged the agencies to include Department of Defense lands in its consideration of possible energy corridors. "The most practical corridor routes for pipeline facilities associated with the LNG delivery include significant area of DOD controlled property," Sempra stated.

In addition, Sempra noted that it has a gas transmission main line within the boundaries of the Camp Pendleton Marine base that has existed since about 1930. "Recent efforts to secure permits for routine operation and maintenance activities to protect the safety and integrity of the pipeline have taken 24 to 36 months," Sempra complained. "We view this as unacceptable when the safety and integrity of our pipeline is at stake."

The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power asked for designation of its proposed "Green Path" high-voltage line, to be developed with the Imperial Irrigation District and non-utility Citizens Energy, as a way to reach developing areas for geothermal, wind and solar projects.

Similarly, power and gas firms have proposed additional corridors from Canada to Mexico, including at least three to accommodate route alternatives for the planned Frontier Line transmission project originating in Wyoming and running through Utah and Nevada into California. Fossil-fuel firms, including Kinder Morgan, Chevron and Exxon Mobil Corp. proposed a spider's web of oil and gas delivery pipelines throughout the region.

Sierra Pacific Power recommended a network of interconnecting lines, including its long-desired path between Reno and the Sacramento area, as well as a new configuration that would connect with the Los Angeles area. Bonneville Power Administration proposed 11 new and existing corridors, while British Columbia's B.C. Hydro utilities promoted several possible routes between the Canadian province and U.S. power markets.

BC Hydro is considering three possible routes for a new 500 KV transmission line to the United States. It suggested, "Designating all three corridors will preserve the viability or each option while further studies are being conducted. It would be unfortunate to eliminate promising options at this early stage of the process."

Even the American Wind Energy Association proposed five broad corridors that would allow energy from Southwestern states to reach various hubs in California.

And these might not even represent the entire portfolio of potential energy corridors, said CEC's Bartridge. Concerned that many California stakeholders might not have been aware of the federal meetings, the CEC has scheduled two in-state workshops Feb. 8-9 for additional proposals.

On the other hand, Bartridge said, there needs to be full consideration of areas that should not be exposed to development, such as Yosemite National Park or wildlife habitats.

Of course, not all federal PEIS commenters favored making it any easier for additional power lines or pipeline facilities. Several individual landowners or groups expressed concerns that federal corridors might lead to eminent domain actions against adjacent private lands. Tribal representatives of the Navajo Nation argued that federal corridor designation to encourage new development "would abrogate the right of Indian tribes to consent or refuse to consent to rights-of-way applications through Indian lands."

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