200-foot towers will soon be installed through San Gabriel Valley, Whittier areas
The biggest transmission line project in the history of Southern California Edison is finally making its way out of the desert and into civilization.
The $3.5 billion effort will transport wind energy from the Tehachapi area of Kern County into Southern California Edison’s power grid, which serves 14 million people in the Southland.
“It’s our flagship project,” said Les Starck, an Edison vice president of local public affairs. “It’s our crown jewel.”
The line would be capable of carrying 4,500 megawatts, enough to power 3 million homes at once.
Along with helping Edison reach a state-mandated goal that at least 20 percent of its energy be from renewable sources by 2017, the 250 miles of transmission line will increase reliability on the power grid, officials said.
So far, Edison and contractors have completed three segments that bring energy purchased from independently owned wind farms near the Tehachapi Mountains to the high desert of Los Angeles County.
Starting this year, the utility will start work on 200-foot towers to bring power lines over the San Gabriel Mountains and into populated areas.
Once they emerge from the Angeles National Forest, the lines will eventually move through Edison rights of way in riverbeds and hills to feed into substations in La Canada Flintridge, Pasadena, Monterey Park, Irwindale and Chino.
To make room for new towers, workers are moving lines including many near the the San Gabriel River.
On the new towers will sit a 500 kilovolt line, which will replace 66-kilovolt and 220-kilovolt wires.
Most of the major work will start in 2011 and 2012, and Edison hopes to finish everything by 2015. At its peak, the project will put 1,000 people to work.
The technical challenges of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project are daunting, said Ray Paz, the project’s general manager.
Many of the towers in the forest are planned for terrain so steep and inaccessible that an enormous helicopter, dubbed a “sky crane,” will be used to transport and install much of the steel used to build trellised towers.
But those challenges pale in comparison to resistance encountered from people living near Edison rights of way, Paz said.
Much of the land around the towers serves as a sanctuary for animals. The right of way passes through the Puente Hills Landfill Native Habitat Authority wilderness park between the San Gabriel Valley and Whittier.
Some of the strongest opposition came from area conservationists including residents of communities along the Puente Hills.
Construction and access roads will spoil pristine areas, said Claire Schlotterbeck, executive director of Hills For Everyone.
“They’ll be bulldozing a very large swath through the habitat lands,” she said. “They’ll build trails, roads. It’s just going to be that much wider and that much taller.”
Paz said the utility has taken great pains to follow strict federal guidelines that reduce conflict with threatened or endangered species.
But conservationists weren’t the only group with objections.
A 150-foot-wide right of way passes through a residential neighborhood in Chino Hills.
The lines will be within 500 feet of 3,000 residents, according to information from Chino Hills.
The city spent more than $2 million to research a new route for the lines through Chino Hills State Park, a plan that gained support from several area nature-conservation groups.
But Edison rejected that plan and received approval from the PUC for the route through Chino Hills.
“We were trying to stand up as example as how we could all work together,” said Denise Cattern, a spokeswoman for Chino Hills. “What we’re left with now is that our residents are worried and don’t know what to do.”
The city sued to stop the project but lost, she said. The Superior Court decision is currently under appeal, Cattern said.
Schlotterbeck, Cattern and others accused Edison and the PUC of trying to make a big splash rather than investing in “smart grid” technology that would reduce use of electricity.
Despite the objections, the PUC approved the project.
Even with increased efficiencies, there’s no substitute for raw transmission capacity, said Frank Smith, an electrical engineering professor at Cal Poly Pomona.
As communities in Orange and Riverside counties expand, demand for electricity will increase.
“Orange County keeps growing, and they need more power down there,” he said. “The only way you can get it there is to make the lines get bigger. It’s just like a garden hose. A bigger hose carries more water. A bigger wire carries more electricity.”
And, during a major outage, capacity is essential for quickly routing power to affected areas, he said.
“The grid’s pretty old,” he said. “It’s been around for a long, long time and the towers are pretty old, too.”