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Public Interest Energy Research Program: Final Report
A Roadmap for PIER Research On Biological Issues of Siting and Managing Transmission Line Rights-Of-Way

Publication Number: 500-04-031
Publication Date: April 2004

The executive summary, abstract and table of contents for this report are available below. This publication is available as an Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format Files. In order to download, read and print PDF files, you will need a copy of the free Acrobat Reader software installed in and configured for your computer. The software can be downloaded from Adobe Systems Incorporated's website.

Download Document in Adobe Acrobat PDF. (39 pages, 200 kilobytes)

Executive Summary

California's population growth of approximately 600,000 people per year is increasing pressure on the state's resources, including its natural diversity and energy supplies. California's economy is dependent on a reliable and stable electricity supply, which requires adequate transmission systems; however, the transmission sector needs to upgrade existing older systems and add new infrastructure to maintain pace with the rising electricity demand. In addition, new transmission lines will likely be required to meet the target of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (SB 1078), which is designed to increase the proportion of the State's retail electricity sales produced by renewable resources from about 11 percent currently to 20 percent by 2017.

Transmission line right-of-way (ROW) corridors through terrestrial landscapes are managed so that vegetation does not interfere with conductors and disrupt the ultimate management goal of providing safe and reliable transmission of electricity. This management can result in the three greatest contributors to species decline: habitat loss, fragmentation, and the growth of invasive species. With about 40,000 miles of transmission line in California, ROWs represent a prominent feature on the landscape; yet little is known abut the ecological consequences or conservation potential of this disturbance. Because these linear corridors are often quite long, several habitat types and species of concern may be involved, and siting new lines is often complicated and lengthy. The siting process is also subject to public opposition due to biological, visual, real estate value, and health concerns. Strategies that identify opportunities to promote conservation within ROWs while maintaining system reliability could contribute to statewide conservation efforts, reduce negative public perception, and facilitate the siting of new, much-needed transmission lines.

The PIER Environmental Area (PIER-EA) has identified four areas of research on the biological issues of siting and managing transmission line ROWs that will help minimize the impact of power line corridors on California's natural biota, while helping to ensure the delivery of safe, reliable, and affordable electricity. First, researchers need to identify conservation risk and opportunities, so that stakeholders can develop and implement informed ROW management strategies as the State's transmission system grows and ages. Second, there is a need to identify and assess ROW management alternatives, focusing on the options that best protect the State's biota while providing effective, economical management. Third, efforts are needed to develop tools and methods to facilitate environmental assessments for ROW sites, so that environmental issues can be identified more quickly and appropriate transmission upgrades can proceed with minimal delay. Last, it is essential to identify means to disseminate information about ROW management in California, to bolster understanding and collaboration among all stakeholders.

The successful completion of the activities outlined in the roadmap will help ensure that California's transmission system can deliver sufficient electricity to meet the State's needs while minimizing the impact of ROW management on the State's flora and fauna. A statewide, comprehensive conservation strategy that included transmission line ROW corridors would enable decision makers and transmission line operators to recognize resource management opportunities on existing lines and make proactive decisions regarding future developments. Environmentally responsible stewardship could help protect and restore sensitive areas or species at risk, contribute to more regional protection efforts, and possibly reduce negative public perception of ROW management. Better understanding of where development will result in fewer impacts could reduce the time required for siting.

The products from this research will be able to be used by utility companies, natural resource managers, policy makers, and researchers to identify optimal land management and conservation strategies associated with ROWs.

In the short term, this roadmap recommends that PIER-EA funds be made available to address the following objectives:

Objective Projected Cost
Identify Conservation Risk and Opportunities 500*
Identify and Assess ROW Management Alternatives 3,000*
Develop Tools and Methods to Facilitate Environmental Assessment of Sites 3,000*
Identify Means to Disseminate Information 500  
Total Short-term Cost $7,000  

Note: An asterisk (*) indicates a high probability that the work will be leveraged with other ongoing efforts. The figure given is the California Energy Commission's projected expenditure to complete the short-term work.

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