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Edna Valley may be spared massive PG&E towers and high-voltage power lines

A PG&E plan that could add miles of high-voltage power lines through Edna Valley has been in limbo for the better part of a year after a California power agency said it wanted to reassess statewide electricity needs — and it doesn’t appear to be moving forward anytime soon.

The Midway-Andrew Transmission Project, also called the Central California Power Connect plan, was unveiled in 2016 as an effort to to connect an existing power station in Buttonwillow with a new substation in Santa Maria to improve the electrical infrastructure in Santa Barbara County, including Santa Maria and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

One proposed route for the massive transmission line project would potentially add 230-kilovolt towers — one of the highest-voltage transmission lines the utility uses — throughout much of Edna Valley and rural South San Luis Obispo County.

Early estimates placed the cost of the project between $120 million and $150 million.

PGE CONNECT ROUTE H 3col_Tribune

The project has been on hold since early 2017 after the California Independent System Operator told PG&E that it shouldn’t proceed with the plan while the agency re-evaluated statewide electricity capacity needs, PG&E spokesman Mark Mesesan said.

Then CAISO released on Feb. 1 its draft 2017-18 Transmission Plan recommending a further hold for the project, with more assessment during the 2018-19 transmission planning process. The agency is expected to vote on the Transmission Plan in March.

Mesesan declined to comment on the future of the project, saying that PG&E will update customers once the CAISO plan is final.

Though the majority of the power would go to Santa Barbara County, the new line was expected to help prevent electrical overload on the existing lower voltage lines and reduce the chance of power outages in the southern San Luis Obispo County grid.

One of the chief concerns for SLO County residents was where the lines would go.

Of the eight proposed routes, three would bring the transmission lines within easy sight of San Luis Obispo County residents (the others stay mostly out of view in eastern SLO County, in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain).

One option, Route H, was particularly contentious among a group of residents because it would cross the Cuesta Grade into the Edna and Arroyo Grande valleys, placing transmission towers — which could range from 100 to 190 feet tall — in some of the county’s more scenic hillsides, in the line of sight of local wineries’ tasting rooms and the multimillion-dollar homes that dot the landscape.

Those residents can breathe at least a temporary sigh of relief now that the project is on hold, though at least one said he is prepared to advocate against it if the plans emerge again.

“Certainly if the possibility arises again, I am on board to fight,” resident Max Riedlsperger said.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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