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Letters to the Editor: Doing the Right Thing with RTRP

Tom Evans, RPU General Manager from 2000-2004, argues that underground lines are safer, more reliable, and worth the extra cost.

Residential power lines running alongside the Santa Ana Riverbottom.

The Riverside Transmission Reliability Project (RTRP) is an excellent example of the difference between “doing things right” and “doing the right thing.”

Southern California Edison (SCE) and the City of Riverside recognized the need for a second connection to the state transmission grid. The city followed SCE to justify this project. However, they justified the wrong thing: a 215,000-volt overhead transmission line constructed on 180-foot-tall steel poles, 600 feet apart, marching along the scenic Santa Ana River habitat and Ward 7 neighborhoods. Each pole will have six wires on which large orange “beach balls” will be installed for visibility and aircraft safety.

The right thing would have been designing this line for 100% underground. The city of Jurupa Valley sued SCE over the project’s overhead design and was successful in having it changed to underground construction throughout their city.

Installing the wires underground is feasible, affordable, and consistent with projects in other areas of California. Underground construction is more expensive but justified because undergrounding has the overall values of being inherently safer (including to low-flying aircraft), more aesthetically pleasing, less impactful to the values of adjacent properties, and more reliable since they aren’t affected by wind, other weather, or physical impact.

I worked in the electric utility business for over 30 years. During that entire time, no underground high-voltage transmission lines failed. In fact, on one occasion, a 500,000-volt overhead line failed due to high winds.

Since the 1970’s, it has been the policy statewide that new electric distribution lines be underground for safety, reliability, and aesthetics. Additionally, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) mandated PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E to have a program to pay to convert existing distribution lines from overhead to underground. Over the years, these private utilities have spent $100’s of millions putting overhead lines underground. The customers of the utilities pay for these through their rates.

It is ridiculous to hear justification to keep constructing high voltage transmission lines overhead for the same reasons distribution lines are required to be underground: safety and reliability.

RTRP fundamentally puts the interests of SCE ahead of Riverside residents and businesses. The state transmission grid is paid for by all electric customers equally. Thus, SCE wants to construct RTRP as inexpensively as possible to save their customers money. SCE wanted RTRP to be overhead from the start.

Riverside leaders supported the overhead design. SCE has stated the underground line would cost every customer about $1.00/yr. Thus, the overhead line might cost $0.50/yr. The difference is worth paying to prevent the long-term impact of the overhead line.

Riverside Electric customers are already paying their share of the cost of underground high-voltage transmission facilities in other areas served by SCE.

During the time RTRP has been proceeding at glacial speed, a 500,000-volt underground transmission line in Chino Hills and a transmission line under San Francisco Bay have been completed – and Riverside electric customers are paying our proportional share.

Riverside customers will pay for our proportional share of the cost of RTRP that is underground through Jurupa Valley, along with SCE customers.

It will be the right thing and equitable that all customers share in the cost of RTRP being installed underground on Riverside’s side of the Santa Ana River, too.

It is never too late to do the right thing.

Tom Evans, RPU General Manager 2000-2004