U.S. targets routing of power lines

Times Staff Writers

Federal energy regulators Thursday singled out most of Southern California as an area in need of more high-voltage power lines and set in motion a process to make it happen -- even if state officials balk.

Critics warned that the move could potentially gut local and state authorities’ control of the siting of the transmission lines, among the most controversial issues that state and local agencies address.

The action, authorized under a law signed by President Bush in 2005, puts power-short regions of the country “on a path to modernize our constrained and congested electric power infrastructure,” Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said in a statement.

Bodman designated two areas for attention -- one in the Southwest and one in the mid-Atlantic region of the country. The draft designation of land in the Southwest that could be part of a potential transmission corridor covers seven counties in Southern California, three counties in Arizona and one in Nevada.


Under the Energy Department proposal, federal energy regulatory commissioners would have the right to overrule state and local regulators if the latter refuse to issue permits for transmission corridors on designated private lands, an Energy Department spokeswoman said.

But U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) said he was worried that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 could “trample” on states’ traditional authority to approve the siting of power lines after consulting with local governments and citizens.

“This proposal isn’t about preventing blackouts. It is about giving energy companies the upper hand in their interactions with state and local governments,” Waxman said. “Moreover, it could undermine progressive energy policies that many of these states have adopted.”

The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, greeted the federal transmission announcement cautiously.


“The governor’s office is reviewing the findings and will be working with the appropriate state agencies as the process moves forward,” said Bill Maile, a Schwarzenegger spokesman.

People living in rural desert communities have been alarmed by the locations of several corridors being planned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and other utilities serving fast-growing Southern California cities.

This month, a coalition of conservation groups blasted Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and DWP officials for proposing the so-called Green Path corridor.

In that plan, steel pylons and high-voltage transmission lines would be constructed in private wildlife preserves. Residents of Pioneertown, a hamlet in San Bernardino County used as a set for western movies and television shows, are particularly alarmed. LADWP has said it will try to “tweak” the route but will probably not be able to avoid all private lands.


According to the Energy Department, commissioners at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would not have the power to issue permits for transmission corridors in national or state parks, forests or other public lands. Those decisions would be left to other federal agencies, a spokeswoman said.

The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.