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Letters to the Editor: Riverside needs the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project

Justin Scott-Coe, former chair of Riverside’s Board of Public Utilities, argues that RTRP’s planned overhead power lines are essential for community health and affordable, reliable energy and shouldn’t be delayed by undergrounding efforts.

Existing powerlines running alongside the Santa Ana Riverbottom near the Hidden Valley Wildlife Area, the same route as planned for the RTRP.

The Riverside Transmission Reliability Project (RTRP) is a vital public project to ensure the City of Riverside has reliable, sustainable, and affordable electricity for generations to come.

RTRP will provide a second necessary interconnection to the state electrical grid, offsetting potential blackouts that threaten public safety and livelihoods. Additionally, a second interconnection will increase the City’s access to affordable renewable energy, helping Riverside achieve its strategic goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. Finally, the project saves local ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars because state and federal regulators have approved that those costs be shared across the state.

Riverside has worked with Southern California Edison for nearly two decades to secure approval for RTRP. The project has been the subject of extensive study, environmental review, and public outreach. RTRP has been approved to move forward by the City, the state Public Utilities Commission, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

I have the deepest respect for those who sincerely believe that it is preferable to further underground RTRP. However, nearly 20 years of professional evaluation, two comprehensive public environmental review processes, and state and federal regulatory agency approvals directly contradict this perspective.

Additional undergrounding has been found to be more disruptive to the environment than overhead powerlines, only providing the aesthetic benefit of not being seen. Also, the new powerlines would not increase the fire danger in the area, especially compared to the existing powerlines closer to the ground in the same location.

What’s certain is that further undergrounding will increase the project cost by hundreds of millions of dollars. There is now an effort to find external funding sources, but no money has been pledged to date.

Two recent articles provide important context for this effort. Over the next decade, California will need to spend more than $9 billion on new powerlines to support renewable energy growth and prevent blackouts. At the same time, the Public Utilities Commission rejected Pacific Gas & Electric’s proposal to add $40 per month to customers’ bills, mostly for undergrounding powerlines. It is unlikely that hundreds of millions of dollars will be provided to Riverside to further underground an approved powerline project that is already funded.

And what happens when we can’t find hundreds of millions of dollars elsewhere to underground RTRP? RPU ratepayers will be left to pay the bill. Asking Riverside’s residents and businesses to pay for unnecessary undergrounding will directly impact the affordability of Riverside’s electricity and our ability to make necessary investments to support a future of more electrified homes and vehicles.

Let’s be clear: the lack of a second connection to the statewide grid threatens our community’s public health and safety. To further delay this project puts people’s lives and our City’s economy and future viability at risk. RTRP will provide a generational benefit. It must be allowed to move forward.

Justin Scott-Coe, former member and chair of Riverside’s Board of Public Utilities.