The Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the Western Area Power Administration are proposing a new transmission line in Colusa and Sutter counties with the goal of bringing more clean power to SMUD customers.
The proposed CoSu Line would cost SMUD roughly $257 million, with construction done by the Western Area Power Administration, a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Energy that markets and transmits electrical power across 15 central and Western states.
SMUD is pursuing the new transmission line to increase the amount of clean energy it can get from the Pacific Northwest. Washington and Oregon are the nation’s top two producers of hydroelectric power and generate more electricity than their residents consume, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
But the plan may prove controversial since it would place the line over historic wetlands along the Pacific Flyway and require easements on agricultural land.
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SMUD faces a state-mandated Renewable Portfolio Standard that stipulates half of its energy portfolio eventually come from renewable sources. That requirement must be met by 2030 under Senate Bill 350, signed into law this year by Gov. Jerry Brown, said SMUD project manager Lowell Rogers.
As of 2014, SMUD got 26 percent of its power from renewable sources.
“Achieving 50 percent is a significant stretch and will require a diverse mix of renewable portfolio options,” Rogers said.
The proposal, currently open for public comment, calls for building a 500-kilovolt transmission line to tap into a California-Oregon Transmission Project line in Colusa County. The creation of a new substation in Sutter County would allow for a connection to SMUD’s Elverta substation in Sacramento County.
Three plans are being studied. One calls for 44 miles of new transmission line along a corridor from a substation in Maxwell traveling east through part of the 4,507-acre Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, then southeast along the eastern edge of the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge. It would end at O’Banion Substation in Sutter County. Under the plan, new lines would be constructed next to existing transmission lines.
An alternate plan would travel most of the same route but bypass the Sutter refuge before ending at the O’Banion substation. A third option would see a 27-mile line connecting an existing power line to the east near Arbuckle to O’Banion, avoiding both refuges.
The exact locations where SMUD would have to acquire easements won’t be known until the environmental and final engineering process has been completed, Rogers said.
If built, the new transmission line would provide SMUD 700 megawatts of capacity and could reduce its reliance on natural gas, which currently provides 41 percent of SMUD’s power. Natural gas is a fossil fuel and contributes greenhouse gases to the environment, though to a much lesser extent than coal or oil-fired plants. However, the drilling and extraction phase of extracting natural gas results in the leakage of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
The bulk of SMUD’s gas-fired generation comes from its Cosumnes Power Plant in Herald. Rogers said the new plan would also allow the utility to reduce the power it gets from co-generation gas-fired power plants locally.
SMUD gets power from a co-generation plant adjacent to the former Campbell’s Soup facility on Franklin Boulevard, as well as a plant at a Procter & Gamble manufacturing site and a Carson Ice plant in Sacramento. SMUD’s co-generation plants provide neighboring industrial facilities with excess steam from power generation.
Western and SMUD began a 60-day comment period on Dec. 18 for the CoSu Line project. That period includes four informal public meetings on the project in Colusa County on Jan. 12 and 13 and in Sutter County on Jan. 13 and 14. Under the current timetable, environmental review would be complete by 2018. Groundbreaking on construction would take place sometime in 2019, said Teresa Waugh, a WAPA spokeswoman.
Edward Ortiz: 916-321-1071, @edwardortiz