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Time Running Out to Comment on Western Energy Transmission Routes

PHOTO: Planned routes for energy transmission lines across the West are being reevaluated as part of a court-ordered settlement. Public comments will be taken until Tues., May 27. Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey
PHOTO: Planned routes for energy transmission lines across the West are being reevaluated as part of a court-ordered settlement. Public comments will be taken until Tues., May 27. Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey
May 19, 2014

PHOENIX, Ariz. - A 2009 plan for energy transmission corridors across the West is being revised as part of a court-ordered settlement. The public has just over one week to comment on the revisions to the West Wide Energy Corridors, which may involve changing or deleting existing routes and establishing new ones.

Among other things, says Alex Daue, assistant director for renewable energy, The Wilderness Society, the revised corridors do a better job of avoiding environmentally sensitive areas, and provide better access to areas with potential for wind and solar power.

"Well-designed energy corridors can help us meet our clean energy needs while protecting wild lands and wildlife habitats," Daue explains. "The original corridors did not do that. There were corridors in inappropriate locations, and there were corridors that did not provide access to renewable energy, which is where we need to head as a country."

Daue says the original corridors focused on transmitting power from plants that generate electricity with fossil fuels. He says Arizona has several solar energy zones and wind farms that also need access to well-placed transmission lines.

Like other major Arizona utilities, Tucson Electric Power (TEP) transmits electricity generated from both fossil fuels and renewables over long distances. Erik Bakken, director, corporate environmental services and land use, TEP, says it is important to involve everyone in developing transmission corridors. That includes people who develop generating facilities, plus utilities, federal and state land agencies, and environmental groups.

"For us, just having a corridor where we can site transmission facilities, no matter what type of energy, is important, as is making sure that we have all the stakeholders on board and have the ability to build those transmission lines when we need them, and when our customers need them," Bakken says.

Daue hopes the current momentum to fix the transmission corridors under the settlement agreement can be maintained. He says decisions to be made soon by the BLM and USDA Forest Service will shape the future of the electrical grid in the West for decades to come.

"BLM should really maintain its focus on improving these corridors going forward. And we would encourage people who care about our public lands and our clean energy future to also engage. There's a comment period open now, and they can provide input," Daue says.

Among other recommendations, The Wilderness Society wants to delete a transmission corridor that runs along the border of Arches National Park in southern Utah, and another that crosses the Owens Valley in California that would affect habitat for several threatened and endangered species.

Further information and links to comment are available from The Wilderness Society at http://wilderness.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ