West of Devers transmission project gets BLM environmental review

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will in the Aug. 10 Federal Register put out for comment a Final Environmental Impact Statement for the West of Devers Upgrade Project, which is a major transmission addition for southern California.

The BLM will not issue a final decision on the proposal for a minimum of 30 days after the date that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes its notice of availability in the Federal Register.

Southern California Edison proposes to upgrade and adjust the routes of the following existing 220-kV transmission lines within SCE‘s existing West of Devers right-of-way corridor in incorporated and unincorporated areas of Riverside and San Bernardino counties: Devers-El Casco, El Casco-San Bernardino, Devers-San Bernardino, Devers-Vista No. 1 and No. 2, Etiwanda-San Bernardino, and San Bernardino-Vista.

Of the overall 48-mile length of the transmission corridor, about six miles would cross Trust Lands (Reservation) of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and about one mile is on BLM-administered public lands. The BLM lands are located east of the City of Banning and west of the City of Desert Hot Springs in Riverside County.

In addition to the transmission line improvements, substation equipment at the Devers, El Casco, Etiwanda, San Bernardino, Timoteo and Tennessee and Vista substations would be upgraded to accommodate the project changes to transmission and distribution systems.

Construction of the project would facilitate the full deliverability of new renewable energy generation resources now being developed in eastern Riverside County, including the BLM’s Riverside East Solar Energy Zone, into the Los Angeles area.

In addition to the proposed action, the final EIS considers three project alternatives and a No Action Alternative, as well as connected actions enabled by the project. The first alternative, the Tower Relocation Alternative, moves some proposed towers away from residences. The second alternative, the Iowa Street 66 kV Underground Alternative, would place a small portion of the distribution line underground.

The third alternative, the Phased Build Alternative, would retain some of the existing towers, use a different conductor type, and have smaller capacity than the proposed project.

BLM identified a preferred alternative in the Final EIS based on feedback on the Draft Joint Environmental Impact Report (EIR)/EIS from the public and from cooperating agencies. The BLM preferred alternative is the Proposed Action with incorporation of the Tower Relocation Alternative and the Iowa Street 66 kV Underground Alternative.

In October 2013, SCE submitted the application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the California Public Utilities Commission for the project. Because the proposed transmission line would cross about 3.5 miles of federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the project would also require a right-of-way grant from the BLM for the portion of the project across BLM-administered land.

SCE submitted a ROW Application to the BLM in March 2013. Because a portion of the Proposed Action would cross Trust Land on the Morongo Indian Reservation, the project would also require a ROW grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

This project is located within two BLM designated transmission corridors, Corridor K and contingent Corridor S of the California Desert Conservation Area Plan, so a plan amendment would not be required.

If this project is approved, then the BLM-managed portions of the three sections of BLM-managed land in contingent Corridor S that are a part of this project will be designated as an active corridor.

A Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) was issued by the CPUC, as lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act, and the U.S. Department of the Interior, BLM, under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Draft EIR/EIS was released in August 2015. The CPUC published the Final EIR, a CEQA-only document, in December 2015. At the time, the BLM determined that additional time was needed to complete its Final EIS. Therefore, this document comprises the Final EIS for NEPA compliance only.

The project would upgrade SCE’s existing WOD system in a number of ways. The upgrades to the existing 220-kV transmission lines would be the most visible components of the project. These upgrades would occur on about 30 miles of the Devers—El Casco 220 kV transmission line, 14 miles of the El Casco—San Bernardino line, 43 miles of the Devers—San Bernardino line, 45 miles of the Devers-Vista No. 1 and No. 2 lines, 3.5 miles of the Etiwanda—San Bernardino line, and 3.5 miles of the San Bernardino—Vista line.

The project would replace or upgrade the existing 220 kV transmission lines and structures between Devers, El Casco, San Bernardino, and Vista Substations to increase the system transfer capacity from 1,600 MW to 4,800 MW.

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Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy's Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication's editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor's degree from Central Michigan University.

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