Another Ambitious Wind Transmission Project Falls

Last Updated Jul 17, 2009 1:56 PM EDT

It's often said that without transmission reaching from the country's sunniest and windiest areas to cities, renewable energy won't be able to take off. Too bad none of them are actually being built. Following T. Boone Pickens' decision to drop a huge transmission project in Texas, a project called the Transmission Agency of Northern California has also given up.

I'd mentioned TANC before, because it was encountering a surprising level of opposition from the local communities through which it had to pass. Even rural counties, it turns out, contain residents who own and live on the land, and are less than happy at the prospect of massive transmission towers and power lines passing overhead.

The first signs of retreat came when the Sacramento Municipal Utility District withdrew from the project. Two other utility districts followed, making it impossible to fund TANC.

Why SMUD decided to drop out is arguable. The utility left saying that it had discovered that northern California doesn't have enough renewable resources to justify the lines. But the grassroots movement that had organized around stopping TANC would probably argue that it was their efforts that dissuaded others from the project. A journalist who had joined the opposition group gives a list of reasons in a Sacramento Press post-mortem, including the lack of notification TANC initially gave residents about the power lines, lack of transparency and mismanagement.

Without such transmission projects, it's unclear how states like California will meet high renewable energy targets. But there are some clear lessons for future attempts. One is that renewable energy should not be hurried. Huge projects need to go through the requisite years of planning and careful management of different interest groups and local populations.

In the meantime, the review process for TANC has not completely halted; the Western Area Power Administration, a federal agency, was seeing TANC through the loan process and has not yet pulled out. But without someone else picking up the torch for planning, it's unlikely this line will ever be built.