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City Council approves controversial Riverside Transmission Reliability Project

Newly elected council members voted 4-3 in favor of the long-debated project, pushing forward the long-debated plan for 180-foot power lines along the Santa Ana River.

Existing Residential power lines running alongside the Santa Ana Riverbottom.

Despite ongoing opposition and concerns from neighboring cities and residents, the Riverside City Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday, May 14, to approve the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project (RTRP). The decision marks a significant step forward for a project that has been in development for over two decades.

The approved plan involves running new power lines along 180-foot towers above the Santa Ana River, a plan that has sparked considerable debate. Councilmember Jim Perry made the motion for the vote, which saw support from newly elected Councilmembers Philip Falcone, Steven Robillard, and Sean Mill. Opposing votes came from Councilmembers Clarissa Cervantes, Chuck Conder, and Steve Hemenway.

A Long-Awaited Decision

The RTRP is intended to address Riverside’s growing energy needs by providing a second connection to the power grid, which is currently nearing its capacity limits. Southern California Edison (SCE) has been planning the project for years, emphasizing its necessity to prevent potential power outages and support the city’s future energy demands.

Caroline Choi, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Public Policy at SCE, highlighted the urgency of the project, stating, “Riverside’s current system capacity is nearing its limit, with peak loads expected to exceed safe operating standards by 2029, or as early as 2026 with expected demand growth.”

Public Comment: Divided Opinions

Public comments during the council meeting reflected a community divided over the project’s execution. Norco City Mayor Kevin Bash criticized the decision to keep the power lines above ground, citing wildfire risks and advocating for undergrounding the lines instead. “This needs to be undergrounded,” Bash said, pointing to recent fires and changing conditions as justifications for a redesign.

On the other hand, supporters of the project stressed the importance of moving forward without further delays. Walter White, a retired city employee, argued, “Our transmission lines don’t fall down. We need to get this line in before we have power outages and everybody’s out of power. It's been too long.”

Residents and representatives from various organizations provided passionate testimonies for and against the project. Many highlighted concerns about safety, environmental impact, and the financial burden of potential alternatives.

Council Members Weigh In

Councilmember Perry, who supported the motion, emphasized prioritizing the city’s overall needs. “Based on the totality and what is best for the entire city, it is time to move on with this project,” Perry said.

Councilmember Hemenway, who voted against the project, raised concerns about the potential long-term impacts and the need for a more modern approach. “We need to ensure that our infrastructure decisions are forward-thinking and take into account the evolving risks and technologies available,” he said.

Looking Ahead

With the council’s approval, the construction of the RTRP will proceed as planned, with SCE overseeing the development. The project, estimated to cost $730 million, is expected to be completed by 2029. Riverside’s portion of the cost is approximately $208.8 million.

Despite the council’s decision, opposition remains strong, with Norco officials hinting at pursuing a legislative fix to halt the project. As the city grows, the debate over the best approach to meeting Riverside’s energy needs will likely continue.

Learn More About RTRP's History

To understand the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project in more detail, explore some of our past coverage: