Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s plans to build a new set of high-power transmission lines across the central San Joaquin Valley are gaining support from agricultural, economic and educational organizations in the region.
Representatives of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, the Fresno and Madera chambers of commerce, the Kings County Economic Development Corporation, West Hills College - Coalinga and the State Center Community College District are forming the Central Valley Coalition for Reliable Energy. They’ll gather Tuesday at Fresno State’s Water & Energy Technology (WET) Center to announce their coalition’s plans to benefit PG&E’s Central Valley Power Connect project. The utility will build a 230-kilovolt lines between PG&E’s Gregg Substation southeast of Madera and its Gates Substation near Coalinga. The utility said the new 70-mile stretch of power lines is needed to provide more capacity to move electricity around the Valley.
The line represents a two-way path for electricity, sending electricity produced during periods of high demand by PG&E’s Helms hydroelectric project in the Sierra out to the statewide electrical grid, and channeling power up to Helms at slower times so water can be pumped back uphill and stored to produce more electricity later.
“It’s important to recognize that agriculture requires a reliable source of energy over the long term,” said Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. “We are large users of electricity, both on the production farming side and down the supply chain, the value-added food processing that is very energy intensive.”
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Jacobsen said the new coalition is concerned purely with the energy reliability that the Power Connect project would provide, and not in the details of the routes being studied by PG&E.
Denny Boyles, a PG&E spokesman, said the utility is still analyzing a number of options for the power line’s route — much of which will run above farmland between Madera and Coalinga. Over the course of the past year, PG&E has been narrowing the possibilities from mile-wide corridors into narrower 300-foot-wide paths that still leave wiggle room for avoiding potential concerns.
“We’re getting a lot of feedback from farmers,” Boyles said. “They want to know how this will be compatible with what they grow and how they farm.”
The utility has held numerous open houses and presentations, and puts out newsletters for businesses, farmers, school districts and other property owners in or near the possible routes. It’s also soliciting questions and comments every step of the way. “Now only are we asking for (feedback), we’re listening to it and incorporating it,” Boyles said.
PG&E anticipates identifying its preferred route and filing a formal application with the California Public Utilities Commission late this year. The PUC will then begin its own lengthy review process, including public hearings, before issuing a ruling that could ratify PG&E’s route, set a different route, or combine various options for eventual construction. Depending on the PUC’s schedule, PG&E could begin construction in mid-2018 and power up the new line in 2020.