Los Angeles Abandons Renewable Transmission Line after Environmental Protests

Published March 31, 2010

Giving in to fierce opposition from conservationist groups, the City of Los Angeles has abandoned plans to construct an 85-mile transmission line to deliver power from renewable sources to the nation’s second largest city.

Wilderness Preserves, Parks Sacrificed
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had championed the Green Path North Transmission Line as a means to supply the city with solar, wind, and geothermal power generated in southeastern California and Arizona. Villaraigosa’s attempt to appease one group of environmental activists, however, merely incurred the wrath of others.

The proposed transmission route would have required the placement of high-voltage power lines and 16-story towers in and through Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, Pipes Canyon Wilderness Preserve, and the San Bernardino National Forest.

Wildlands Conservancy Executive Director David Myers said his organization invested significant resources in stopping the transmission line, but considered the money well-spent.

“We did a lot of work on our side. We set up kiosks. We urged people to call. In the end, it was over 60,000 communications,” said Myers. “I think the message got through that this project was ill-conceived,” Myers said.

More Controversies Likely
Tom Tanton, an environmental policy researcher at the Pacific Research Institute, said conservationists will create other challenges to California’s ambitious renewable power mandates.

“This is not the first renewable power transmission line to be abandoned, nor is it likely to be the last. Building transmission lines to remote and often sensitive areas to capture renewable energy is a major hurdle to meeting California’s ambitious renewable portfolio standard—likely not to be met anyway—with significant delays and environmental concerns,” Tanton explained.

“There is often encroachment on property rights of those in the path,” Tanton added, and “depending on the renewable technology being ‘harvested,’ the financials turn nasty.”

Conventional Power Alternatives
Tanton said environmental benefits can be better realized by utilizing improved technology in conventional power plants.

“It would make much more sense to refurbish or repower existing power plants, taking advantage of existing transmission infrastructure,” said Tanton, “thereby reducing their fuel use by dramatic increases in efficiency.”

Conservationists Stand Firm
Myers says Los Angeles will instead utilize renewable power generated closer to the city and transmitted through existing power lines—but at a higher cost.

“It was cheaper to go through federal land to build this rather than widening and using existing utility corridors. However, ultimately they accepted another idea—Owens Dry Lake. Setting up a dual-transmission project there, instead, which the courts also want to see, will result in 4,000 megawatts of new renewable energy in comparison to the only 1,200 megawatts of new energy that was set to come from Green Path North,” said Myers.

Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.