Following a heated discussion that opened Tuesday’s Council meeting, councilmembers voted unanimously to let Councilmembers Hemmenway and Conder continue their work with the working group convened to find funding to underground approximately 10 miles of high-voltage transmission line along the Santa Ana River. This decision is in alignment with a vote initially taken in January.
Councilmember Gaby Placenscia, who placed the request for an update on the agenda, citing no move from Hemmenway to provide an update by the end of June, received significant pushback from her colleagues.
“It’s not quite accurate to claim that there was no planned update,” said Hemmenway, “we are working on the best option to pursue funding with the electeds in the group. It’s in process.”
“This is an absolutely illegal action,” said Conder. “This is a grandstanding, theatrical joke that this is even on the agenda. We have Congressman Takano and Congressman Calvert dedicated to trying to find the money to [underground the transmission lines]. We have State Senator Roth and State Senator Seyarto, a Democrat and a Republican, both saying ‘let’s make this work.’”
“I want to hear from my colleagues as to what they’ve been working on,” Placenscia responded, “I think it’s imporatant for us to have these conversations, though painful obviously.” Placenscia cited the need to move quickly due to Southern California Edison (SCE) not having started work on the project yet.
Mark Cloud, Government Affairs Representative for SCE spoke to Council during public comment, “SCE is still very eager to resume project activities and get the licensed project built as quickly as possible to ensure Riverside has the power reliability it needs to keep up with increased demand and with the City’s decarbonization goals. We still believe the project design approved by the CPUC provides an appropriate solution to the problem, and are ready to build it. “Building infrastructure like this above ground helps to keep rates as low as possible at a time when utility rates are going up everywhere,” Cloud continued, “Above-ground infrastructure is far less costly to build and maintain and allows for faster repair times when outages do occur. Transmission lines are not just metal towers stretching across our region; they are a lifeline, an opportunity to decarbonize the grid and make it more resilient in this new era of increasing demand. By getting back to building RTRP, Riverside can harness the potential of renewables, balance supply and demand, and create a more resilient and sustainable energy system for Riverside residents and the business community.
Riversider Tom Evans, former Director of RPU and Interim City Manager, spoke during public comment arguing, “SCE could start tomorrow on the section of the line that’s going to be undergrounded for Jurupa Valley, who demonstrated leadership and forced SCE and CPUC to agree that it should be underground. All we are waiting for is the approval for the second half of the line to be placed underground, and that could be handled in the process [of starting construction on the project].”
“To stop the process now would be incredibly disrespectful to those invidividuals who are trying to help the City and help us put this line underground,” Evans continued. “To say ‘stop’ in the middle [of this working group] whould be very disrespecteful to them, and I think would make Riverside look foolish in the process.”
“Everyday across the United States, transmission lines are undergrounded,” Hemmenway closed his response.
“The committee is working well,” Conder added, “to say that ‘there’s no money’ [to underground the project] – that’s not accurate.”