Power line plan fizzles with residents

Six hundred miles of high-voltage power lines would mar farms and country homes simply because that's cheaper than a less disruptive option, a Stanislaus County leader charged Tuesday.

A claim of pursuing renewable energy options "is just a front to sell power up and down California," Supervisor Bill O'Brien told energy officials, prompting vigorous applause from landowners upset at the proposal at a county Board of Supervisors meeting.

A partnership including the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts wants to run power lines through several counties, including Stanislaus. O'Brien said the utilities could accomplish their goal without their own equipment but are too cheap to pay competitor Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to use its power lines.

Transmission Agency of Northern California representatives confirmed that they wield legal authority to seize easements for the lines, even in areas outside their jurisdictions, which O'Brien called "scary." Potential corridors could affect Del Rio, Escalon, Riverbank and Oakdale.

No major lines in years

No major power lines have been installed in Northern California in 16 years, despite substantial growth and increasing demand for energy, said Patrick Mealoy, TANC's operations manager. The new lines would improve reliability against power failures, he said.

Angry residents said they were made aware of the plan late in the game. O'Brien said, "The whole thing started out very secretive."

"Every rancher and farmer I know in east Stanislaus County is adamantly opposed to this thing," said Robert Cushing, an almond grower east of Oakdale. "There is no benefit to any of us, none at all."

Kenneth Krause, who runs cattle east of Oakdale, said, "To ramrod this to people in the area is ridiculous."

Chris Ronson, who lives east of Modesto, and Stephanie Dampier of Hickman said maps show lines running over their homesteads, established decades ago.

"I do believe all of you should tank TANC," said Lou Lombardi of Waterford.

Mealoy said the partners delayed a period of public comment to allow for more input, and added another layer of public review. The partners would "do our best not to impact buildings, with no lines over structures or homes," he said. Maps showing possible alignments are preliminary and "will be modified over the course of the next several months to a year," he said.

Oakdale's Alida Damrell McKeon said she is "incredibly suspicious" because TANC officials are "very anxious" to secure lines. TANC representatives acknowledged wanting to convey wind power from Lassen County, although no windmills have been installed.

"Just because we're small and don't have money, they think they can bully," McKeon said. "I don't trust what they say."

In other action:

County supervisors delayed revising developer fees until after they update a list of capital improvements to be paid for by the new fees.

Staff members spent 1½ years crafting a proposal that would raise $1.2 billion over 22 years, 65 percent of which would help pay for major road projects. But home builders last week said they detected a "disconnect" between a justifying study and the county's wish list for capital projects.

"We do have the time," said Toby Wells of Pulte Homes, who is vice chairman of the Building Industry Association of Central California, noting a slump in construction since the recession. "Let's get it right."

Fees would go down in 12 of 18 building categories, but would increase for new houses, industrial plants, gas stations and drive-through businesses. Wells warned against "shifting the burden unfairly" from stores and "manipulating the study to get the end result you're looking for."

Jan Ennenga, executive director of the Manufacturing Council of the Central Valley, predicted that "there will no be growth in manufacturing and industrial sector if this program is passed as proposed."

The county would collect no fees if industry finds it too expensive to build, said Joe Mackil, chief executive officer for the Beard Land Investment Co. and Modesto Empire & Traction Co.

Supervisors also reluctantly agreed to explore forming a partnership with several cities in two counties, to boost energy-efficiency programs for homeowners.

Valley native Douglas White offered to set up a joint powers authority to seek stimulus grants. Bonds to conserve home energy use could be repaid through voluntary property assessments, White said. Such programs have been wildly successful in Berkeley, Sonoma County, Palm Desert and Boulder, Colo., he said.

Hughson, Newman, Oakdale, Patterson, Riverbank, Waterford, Escalon, Manteca and Ripon are interested, White said.

But Supervisor Jim DeMartini called the idea "nothing more than a jobs program for attorneys," and Supervisor Jeff Grover said, "This feels like a program that's speculative and not compelling." The board voted 4-1, with DeMartini dissenting, to continue reviewing White's pitch.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star