ALAMOSA – In a series of public meetings surrounding a proposed transmission line over La Veta Pass, the Transmission Line Coalition (TLC) hosted speakers who addressed processes, alternatives and concerns Wednesday night.
TLC is opposed to the proposed new power line, and the speakers during the Wednesday forum questioned the motives and rationale behind the proposal. They questioned that the line was necessary and encouraged attendees to seek legislative action, pursue the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Agency) process and “get loud” in their opposition to the line.
TLC plans to host another forum in the Valley on April 20 with the utility companies as guest speakers.
Fort Garland resident Sally Keller described TLC as a coalition of concerned citizens and independent member groups who support environmentally sound alternatives that rely on upgrades to the existing corridor.
“We do not support the transmission line,” she said.
TLC encompasses such groups as the Land Rights Council, Save La Veta Valley, SLV Ecosystem Council, Sangre de Cristo Homeowners Association and Majors Ranch Homeowners Association as well as individuals.
Keller reminded the group of some of the history of the line and efforts to oppose it and said several matters are pending right now so “stay tuned.”
Carol Overland, author of “Transmission Lies” and legal counsel representing groups opposing transmission lines in the Midwest and East Coast, questioned the need for new transmission lines anywhere in the U.S. because demand has decreased.
“Demand is way down,” she said. “If demand is down, what’s the driver?”
She said one of the reasons power demands have decreased is the loss of big industry in this country.
“That kind of need is not coming back anytime soon,” she said.
“I have never met a transmission project that was for the reasons they say it is,” she said.
“The biggest lie of all is that we need it.”
Overland said she was not as familiar with Colorado processes and the Valley’s proposal as she was with those in the Midwest where she works, but she encouraged the audience to question the stated purposes for the new line here. She said completing the circuit is a legitimate reason but there might be other ways to accomplish that other than a new line.
She suggested upgrading existing corridors and infrastructure rather than building new, and she advocated replacing fossil-fueled power with renewable energy. As utility companies are required to implement renewable energy standards, at the same time they should be backing off from traditional power sources, she said.
Overland said new transmission lines are being constructed not to address need or renewable energy mandates but to sell power.
She encouraged Valley residents to push for legislation that allows them to become part of the public input process early on (“typically the public does not get involved until too late”) and that requires utility companies to consider the people who are directly affected by proposed transmission lines, such as the landowners over whose property the lines will cross.
“It’s built on the backs of landowners … and on the backs of ratepayers.”
Overland also said just because an area might provide the best resource for renewable energy such as solar does not mean it should be used over an area that might provide adequate resources and less disturbance to landowners.
“This isn’t rocket science,” she said. “It’s only electrical.”
She urged local residents to “get loud,” “raise hell” and become involved politically and publicly.
“Get active at all levels,” she said. “You’ve got to be proactive. They are not going to come to you.”
Colorado Open Lands President Dan Pike urged utilization of the NEPA process in connection with this project. He said he has never seen a better, more comprehensive process. NEPA looks at both sides of an issue, benefits and drawbacks and considers all types of impacts from economic to environmental, he said.
Pike, whose organization holds 20 conservation easements in the transmission line study area (the largest of which is on Trinchera Ranch), described processes and players involved in transmission line projects and said it can be very complicated, with decision makers involved at all levels from local to federal levels.
“The day of utilities making proposals for transmission lines in isolation is about over,” he said.
Pike said environmental analysis decisions could be appealed first administratively and ultimately legally if necessary. The latter is something most government agencies want to avoid, he said, so they want to make sure the process is conducted properly.
He said as it stands now, environmental analyses have not been comprehensive enough, and if more information and more impacts are not considered, “they have got an imminently challengeable decision.”
Going back to NEPA, he said, “I am really a fan of NEPA as a decision making tool … It requires you have the adequate information to make decisions. I don’t think we have got the adequate information.”
The third speaker at Wednesday night’s TLC forum was Gary Graham, Ph.D., transmission project director for Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group that came out in support of the La Veta line. His main focus was climate change, and he talked about warming trends and the effect on wildlife habitat, particularly at higher elevations.
Graham advocated replacing “dirty energy” with renewable energy, with that energy requiring transmission.
“We don’t know how much renewable energy is going to be needed,” he said.
He added, “green energy is a global issue … Think globally. Lead locally. Climate change, for all of us, has to become part of the dialogue.”
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