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Published: Friday, 10/12/2007

Powerless

WITH a decree from the U.S. Department of Energy, states and individual homeowners in Southern California, parts of Arizona, and much of the Northeast lost any leverage against electric utilities planting new high-voltage transmission towers wherever they please.

It s obvious who has pull in Washington and it s not residents or state regulators opposed to transmission lines that stretch for miles through numerous communities. It s conglomerates like Southern California Edison, backed by business and industry lobbying groups, that have the ear of the White House and Congress at least when Republicans controlled it.

One GOP priority was the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which allowed the federal government to designate corridors for transmission lines if a state had not acted on a utility s application within a year or had turned it down. So, despite the fact that there is fierce local opposition to California utilities siting transmission lines in certain areas, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman recently cleared the way for utilities to proceed as planned.

What he did was designate six California jurisdictions as national interest electric transmission corridors. The purpose is to keep electricity flowing freely across the national grid, which is vital. But how is it in the national interest to let private utilities condemn homes and land for lines if a state is unwilling to do so?

And whatever happened to the time-honored Republican virtue of local control?

In California, the designation is sweeping, including Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Kern, and San Diego counties.

A spokesman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission downplayed the scope of order saying, We re not talking about a huge transmission tower on Wilshire Boulevard.

But it s unclear how many fast-growing communities will be affected by the federal order and there is fear the utilities will first target small rural towns and private land preserves around national parks.

The Energy Department also said critical areas of congestion had been identified in the Southwest and Northeast that would presumably benefit from strategically placed transmission lines regardless of state or local objection.

The announcement was predictably praised by the utility industry and other business groups, but the public with no say in the matter can only take the role of David to their Goliath.



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