California PUC issues draft environmental report on Path 15 upgrade proposal

Ann de Rouffignac
OGJ Online

HOUSTON, Oct. 10, 2001 – Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s plans to expand the congested power transmission pathway in California known as Path 15 took a forward step yesterday when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a draft environmental report for review.

Path 15 is a series of high-capacity transmission lines between Northern and Southern California. It is part of the Pacific Intertie, which links the Pacific Northwest to Southern California.

The severe limitations of Path 15 as a conduit to move power from the generation-rich south to the drought-stricken and generation-poor north played a notorious role in the blackouts in California during 2000. Congestion along that line ended up costing Californians $221.7 million between September 1999 and December 2000, according to testimony filed at the CPUC by the California Independent System Operator (ISO).

The CPUC ordered Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a unit of PG&E Corp., to propose a remedy to the transmission constraint by April of 2001.

“We have brought this up to the CPUC three or four times over the last decade,” noted Jon Tremayne, spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric. “Each time it was shot down.”

Meanwhile, the California ISO approved Pacific Gas & Electric’s proposal in testimony filed at the CPUC, said Stephanie McCorkle, spokeswoman.

“To increase capacity by 1,500 Mw at a cost of $300 million is justified to mitigate risk of high prices from market power and drought conditions,” the ISO said in documents filed at the CPUC.

CPUC studied possible environmental impacts of the installation of 84 miles of overhead transmission line between PG&E’s Los Banos and Gates substations; realignment of the existing Los Banos-Midway No. 2 500-kv transmission lines into Gates substation; modifications to Los Banos and Gates substations; and upgrading portions of the Gates-Arco-Midway 230-kv transmission line.

The draft environmental report identifies more than 70 separate impacts in 10 environmental areas for the proposed project. About two-thirds of these impacts can be mitigated, the CPUC said. But four impacts on the environment are deemed significant and can’t be mitigated. These include:

– Construction equipment engine emissions.

– Loss of agricultural soils and productive agricultural lands.

– Potential loss of habitat for special status species.

– Towers and lines that present safety hazards to small aircraft spraying crops.

Comments on the draft environmental impact statement are due by Nov. 19, and the final report will be published in January 2002.

At the same time that PG&E is moving towards the expansion through the state regulatory approval process, it is also participating in the federal Western Area Power Administration’s (WAPA) plans to upgrade Path 15.

WAPA is moving to get the same project approved and built through federal channels. During the height of the California energy crisis, Sec. of Energy Spencer Abraham ordered WAPA to issue a Request for Proposal and proceed with expansion of Path 15.

“These are the same projects. Both projects will not be built,” said Tremayne. “Who will ultimately build the upgrade remains to be seen.”

No matter which proposal – the federal one or the state process – gets the go-ahead, the Path 15 expansion would not be online before 2004, said Tremayne.

Contact Ann de Rouffignac at annd@ogjonline.com

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