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Summer 2009

Grassroots Efforts Prevail

A grassroots effort to fight a 600-mile high-voltage transmission line proposed by the Transmission Agency of Northern California (TANC) ended in mid-July with the project proponents pulling the plug.

The proposal was supported by a consortium of municipal utilities including cities and irrigation districts across the state.  The proposal includes three alternative alignments that would run numerous power lines throughout the valley and end at a non-existent renewable energy site in Lassen County. 

Ranchers, farmers and private landowners were startled when they found out that huge power lines would be put across their homes, farms and ranches to provide much needed energy to urban dwellers.  TANC officials balked at citizens and dismissed them as the NIMBY folks (Not In My BackYard).

It was a lot more than NIMBY syndrome when locals organized themselves and started an extensive letter writing campaign to comment on the scope of the proposal.  Groups throughout the north state popped up over a few months and started a grassroots swelling of opposition.  Many did extensive research and held town hall meetings to get the attention of TANC officials, our federal, state and local elected officials, as well as their neighbors.  A meeting held in Maxwell drew over 65 people in late June, to assist property owners write effective letters to voice their opposition to the proposal.

Groups such as Farm Bureau, Family Water Alliance, landowners associations, local government, private property rights advocates and our state legislators joined together to fight the TANC proposal that wanted to balance the Bay Area’s energy problems on the backs of rural Californians.

Senator Sam Aanestad said in a letter “the TANC transmission project that is causing so much anxiety in my district is a proposal  to build and upgrade 600 miles of high-voltage electric transmission lines and substations extending from Northeastern California through the Northern Central Valley and across to the San Francisco Bay…I strongly object to my beautiful district being used as energy plant construction site for the benefit of Bay Area consumers who support renewable energy, but will not construct the facilities locally.”

Senator Aanestad’s sentiments were right on target, the project would not benefit rural north state residents, but they would be the ones to bear the burden of the power lines to nowhere. 

Through voiceful opposition and thousands of letters TANC consortium member began to pull there support from the project.  Sacramento Municipal Utility Company (SMUD) was the first to pull out of the TANC consortium in early July.  SMUD, the largest shareholder in the project, would have picked up 35 percent of the cost of the project.  Modesto and Turlock Irrigation district shortly followed SMUD’s lead and finally in mid July the TANC board of directors decided to stop the environmental review of the project.

Its encouraging to see the success of so many north state residents that poured their hearts and souls into advocating against a proposal that not only violated their private property rights, but would have set a precedence that rural Northern California will help serve the needs to urban cities who mandate policies and agendas, but are not willing to deal with the consequences for those decisions.

Furthermore, as utility companies are furiously trying to comply with energy regulations set by California that require 33 percent of all energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. Such admirable goals come with unintended consequences, such as huge tracks of California being consumed with wind farms, solar facilities and other renewable energy plants.

The term greenwashing has been used by many concerned citizens across the state about the “power lines to nowhere”.  The U.S.-based watchdog group CorpWatch defines greenwash(ing) as "the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment." This definition was shaped by the group's focus on corporate behavior and the rise of corporate green advertising at this time. 

Furthermore, with an influx of federal stimulus money many companies are greenwashing their projects to qualify for federal funding, and yes the TANC project would in part have be paid for by federal stimulus funds.

Renewable energy is part of the solution to California’s energy needs, but it is unfair to burden rural landowners with urban problems. ■

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