KINGS BEACH, Calif. — Upon entering a dark room, one’s hand instinctively goes to the light switch to brighten it.
To ensure that light comes on when the switch is flicked, local electric company Liberty Utilities is proposing upgrading two major transmission lines that primarily serve the North Shore.
The lines — one running between Kings Beach and Tahoe City, the other from Truckee to Kings Beach — are some of the oldest electric lines in California and are experiencing capacity issues, according to the company.
“Right now, if something adverse happens to the lines during winter peak load season — for any number of reasons — the aging power lines are especially vulnerable,” said Mike Smart, president of Liberty Utilities.
The proposed $46 million upgrade includes: removing and replacing the Kings Beach to Tahoe City segment with a new, rerouted electric line; rebuilding the Truckee to Kings Beach segment with potential realignment; and upgrading, modifying or decommissioning six electrical substations.
The upgrades would allow the entire North Lake Tahoe Transmission System to operate at 120 kilovolts (up from 60 kV), according to the company, increasing the ability to maintain current maximum system loads even during a line outage.
On Dec. 30, 2012, demand exceeded the current system’s limits, Smart explained to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Advisory Planning Commission on Wednesday. If a system line segment had been lost during that peak, there would have been extended outages.
“The transmission system was stressed at that time, and we anticipate that we could experience the same scenario again,” Smart said.
Despite project benefits, concerns exist about its environmental impacts, including potential visual impacts of replacing existing wood poles with dark-colored steel poles that are stronger and can better resist wildfire.
“This great North Shore recreation asset has it all: views of Lake Tahoe, access to Watson Lake, Jeep and equestrian trails, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking,” said Ann Nichols, president of the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance. “All are close to town, yet not marred by unsightly power lines. That’s all about to change if Liberty Utilities ... gets (project) approval.”
Nichols’ comment also connects to the issue of power line realignment. The current draft environmental report evaluates five project alternatives — four action alternatives including alignment options, and one no-action alternative.
Areas of potential project impact include: biological resources; hydrology and water quality; and heritage, cultural and paleontological resources, according to the report.
TRPA, the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and the California Public Utilities Commission all need to lend approval, since project activity falls within their jurisdictions.
If approved, it would be done in three phases, Smart said:
• completion of the Truckee/Kings Beach line by December 2014,
• substation modifications completion in 2015/2016; and
• Kings Beach/Tahoe City line rebuild in 2018/19, or sooner, if needed.
“Liberty Utilities will coordinate construction to minimize impacts upon customers,” said Kathy Carter, a Liberty Utilities representative. “(Impact) details depend on which section of the project is being constructed.”
As to whether customers will need to pay more upon completion/operation, that will be determined by the California Public Utilities Commission, she said.