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Council: Consultant will study alternatives to transmission project

Outside consultant will study project over 6-8 months and present findings before work begins on overhead transmission lines.

Margarita Martinez

On Tuesday, May 10, the Riverside City Council voted to begin the search for an outside consultant to study alternatives to the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project (RTRP), which will provide the city with a second high-voltage transmission line to the California power grid. According to a statement released by Riverside Public Utilities (RPU) in 2020, Riverside is currently the only city of its size to rely on a single connection to the grid.

Councilmember Steve Hemenway, who represents Ward 7, proposed that the city hire an outside entity to identify other approaches to the project, which is controversial among some residents for its aesthetic and possible environmental impacts.

“We need an objective, unbiased evaluation of the scenario and our options,” said Hemenway. “There’s no question that we need (RTRP)….but what are the facts? We need to gather opinions and options for alternatives, or decide that it should stay as is,” he said.

The May 10 meeting included a presentation by RPU general manager Todd Corbin, who laid out different paths forward if the Council decides to revisit or try to amend the plan with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

In the existing RTRP plan, Southern California Edison (SCE), partnering with RPU, will install approximately 10 miles of high-voltage transmission line near parts of the Santa Ana River in Riverside, Jurupa Valley and Eastvale. About four miles of the 230-kilovolt transmission line planned for Jurupa Valley will be dug about eight feet underground, with the remaining five miles in the Riverside portion strung on a series of steel poles and lattice towers.

The project has long been a source of controversy for some Ward 7 residents, who say they will be disproportionately impacted by RTRP.

“I live on one of the five streets that will be the most affected,” said Oscar Reynoso during public comments at an April 5 City Council meeting. “We’re a mostly working-class community. These towers will be just a few feet away from our backyards.”

Others dislike the look of steel towers, some as high as 180 feet, looming over the Santa Ana River, and worry about the project’s effects on the Santa Ana river bottom. 

“The river bottom is one of our last vestiges of open land with wild animals, a wonderful ecosystem and beautiful views,” said Ward 1 resident April Glatzel at an April 5 City Council meeting. “Please reconsider this unsightly, dangerous project, which is situated in a high-wind, high-fire area.”

In Hemenway’s May 10 motion, the outside consultant is to spend 6-8 months studying alternatives to the plan at a cost of approximately $50,000. Installation of the overhead lines in Riverside is not slated to begin until July 2023, which Hemenway said is enough time for an outside consultant to study the issue and present the council with possible alternatives.

Southern California Edison has received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to complete the project at a cost of $511 million. Initially, all of the nearly 10-mile project was to be installed on overhead poles and towers, but in 2017 the city of Jurupa Valley successfully appealed to the CPUC to embed its portion of the transmission lines underground.