April 23--A diverse collection of local organizations and landowners submitted comments against a proposed electric transmission line project, saying it will harm agriculture, the economy and the environment.
Almost 20 letters were sent to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the Western Area Power Administration, which are spearheading the proposal to construct a 500-kilovolt electric transmission line that, depending on the final project design, would cross either 27 or 44 miles in both counties.
The project, called the Colusa-Sutter, or CoSu, Transmission Line, prompted comment from farm organizations, water districts, private landowners and conservation associations, which all outlined various negative impacts of the power lines and towers the project proposes to construct.
"The towers and lines make aerial application of rice seed, fertilizers and weed control products very difficult and even dangerous to pilots working in these areas," according to a letter from the California Rice Commission. "Growers can experience higher costs for services (that can) actually be less effective than on fields without such structures."
Power towers can also reduce the profitability of rice fields and impact the waterfowl that rely on habitat and food created by flooded rice fields, according to the rice commission.
"There is no doubt in our minds that running power lines over our rice fields makes those fields less valuable for waterbird conservation. Not something we can really afford in a state that has lost 95 percent of its original wetlands," the letter stated.
About 80 miles of transmission lines already cross Sutter County, with direct impacts to more than 2,900 acres of farmland. The proposed project would add between nine and 22 miles of new transmission lines, affecting an additional 350 to 1,600 acres of agricultural land, according to a letter in opposition to the project from the Yuba-Sutter Farm Bureau, which claims to represents 1,200 farm members in the area.
The letter said it was impossible to quantify the economic impacts at this stage of the project.
"It is known that removal of agricultural land from active operations impacts all businesses supporting the operations, such as equipment dealers, processing facilities and labor," the letter stated.
A letter of opposition from the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corporation criticized the project for its potential to take farmland out of production through eminent domain.
"Even assurances that fair market value will be offered for land acquired through eminent domain cannot make up for taking prime farm land out of production," the letter stated. "Millions of dollars in losses will affect the local economy -- not to mention the emotional toll for people whose livelihood and heritage is in the land."
The project could also impact the long-term viability of the Sutter Energy Center, which was recently shut down by Calpine, removing 20 jobs from the area and $1.7 million from Sutter County's tax roll, according to a comment letter from the law firm Morgan Lewis on behalf of Calpine.
"The reopening of SEC could be impacted directly by the ultimate decision of whether to construct the proposed CoSu Project," the letter stated. "Permanent closure of the facility would be unfortunate for a number of reasons, including the loss of one of California's cleanest natural gas-fired power plants ... the loss of jobs and the significant reduction in the local tax payroll."
The SEC was temporarily closed due to struggles to sell the power it produced.
All the submitted comments will be analyzed and addressed with preliminary mitigation measures, if required, in the draft environmental impact statement. That process will begin now that the first round of public comments ended on April 18, said Jennifer Neville, a public affairs specialist with Western Area Power Administration.
The draft report will be ready by July 2018, at which point there will be another round of public comment and meetings, Neville said.
"We want to make sure we do a thorough review and get all those mitigation measures addressed," Neville said. "The comments we receive are so vital for us to be aware of the impacts and things happening on the ground."
As part of the environmental review process, the two power entities will develop a range of alternatives to the project, including an option to stop the project entirely.
About the project
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District is studying three corridors for a proposed transmission line that would cross Colusa and Sutter counties.
One calls for 44 miles of new transmission line from a substation in Maxwell, traveling east through part of the 4,507-acre Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, then southeast along the eastern edge of the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge. The line would end at O'Banion Substation in Sutter County. New lines would be constructed next to existing transmission lines.
A different plan would travel a similar route but bypass the Sutter refuge before ending at the O'Banion substation. A third option would involve a 27-mile line connecting an existing power line to the east near Arbuckle to O'Banion, avoiding both refuges.
SMUD said the project is necessary for several reasons.
The proposed transmission line would enhance the reliability of the electrical grid and increase SMUD's load-serving capability, which the district anticipates will be insufficient beginning in 2025. It would also give SMUD improved access to renewable energy markets in the Pacific Northwest ahead of a requirement from the state to have 50 percent of its energy portfolio made up of renewable energy, according to a preliminary report on the project.
CONTACT reporter Andrew Creasey at 749-4780 and on Twitter @AD_Creasey.
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