Frequently Asked Questions
Below are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and responses about the CoSu Line. The FAQs are organized by topic area. Click on a topic below for questions and responses.
About the Project | Expected Benefits from the Project | Clean Power/Green Technology | Public Involvement | Project Schedule | Environmental Review Process | Project Corridor Study Areas vs. Alignments | Aesthetics/Views | Agriculture | Environmental Interests | Landowners | Facility Information | Health and Hazards | Operations and Maintenance | Construction | Funding
About the Project
What is the Colusa-Sutter Transmission Line?
The CoSu Line is a proposed 500-kilovolt (kV) transmission line currently being studied by the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) and Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). The CoSu Line would connect the California-Oregon Transmission Project (COTP) on the west side of the Sacramento Valley, in Colusa or Yolo counties, to WAPA's and SMUD's existing substations in Sutter or Sacramento counties. The project could also include potential modifications to SMUD's existing Elverta Substation. The COTP is one of three critical 500-kV transmission lines connecting California to the Pacific Northwest.
Why is the CoSu Line under consideration?
The CoSu Line is needed to enhance the reliability of the electrical grid in Northern California and to meet SMUD's request to increase its ability to import power from and export power to other energy markets, particularly the Pacific Northwest. SMUD is a customer of WAPA's, which markets hydroelectric power through transmission lines to a variety of customers in 15 western states. WAPA's existing transmission facilities do not have enough capacity to meet SMUD's request for increased service, so the CoSu Line is being proposed as a solution.
Why is this project needed?
The project would provide a new energy pathway for SMUD to import power from and export power to other energy markets, helping SMUD meet its goals of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and increase its use of energy from renewable resources. WAPA would also benefit from this proposed project as it would reduce strain on WAPA's transmission lines, delaying or avoiding costly upgrades.
Expected Benefits from the Project
What are the anticipated benefits of the CoSu Line?
This CoSu Line would:
- improve local and regional reliability;
- help the region meet required reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases;
- help the region meet required goals for renewable energy content;
- ensure the continued safe and reliable operation of the regional transmission system that delivers clean power to homes and businesses in the region;
- assist SMUD in planning for anticipated growth in energy demand;
- improve the network transmission infrastructure and import/export capability for the Sacramento area; and
- allow all WAPA customers to benefit from increased import and export capability.
What are the anticipated benefits for the counties in the project area?
This project would improve the electrical grid for Northern California, including the transmission system that serves people and industry in Northern California. . It will enhance reliability for the region by ensuring that electricity is there when needed. It would also allow Northern Californians access to larger amounts of imported low carbon, renewable energy, which is good for the environment locally, regionally and globally. Local communities could also expect to see some measure of economic benefit from the construction phase if the project is built. The CoSu Line will create 150 megawatts (MW) of capacity at O'Banion Substation for the connection of future energy generation. If future renewable energy projects are developed within Colusa and Sutter counties, the CoSu line could be used to transmit the energy.
Clean Power/Green Technology
How would the CoSu Line deliver clean power?
The CoSu Line would import low carbon and renewable-generated electricity, which is good for the environment locally, regionally and globally. It also provides flexibility for SMUD in terms of electricity delivery, particularly with regard to renewable access and enabling SMUD to meet its customers' needs with less reliance on high-carbon producing power sources.
Why build a new transmission line when the energy industry seems to be moving in the direction of distributed generation (such as solar) and micro-grids?
It is almost certain that a diverse, robust energy portfolio will be necessary to meet future energy needs, not just an increase in distributed generation and locally connected small-scale grids. In fact, there are numerous large-scale transmission projects proposed each planning year throughout California and the western regional grid to ensure adequate delivery of energy and to maintain system reliability. The CoSu Line would be a cost effective option by capitalizing on existing major infrastructure that is already in place (e.g., COTP, and the Central Valley Project).
How can the public get involved?
The public plays a crucial role in the project and public participation is encouraged throughout each phase. WAPA and SMUD are committed to keeping the public informed and involved in all stages of the project's development, and to communicating regularly and providing the public with updates throughout the development of the project. The project website will be updated frequently, and project representatives are available to respond to general inquiries or requests for information that are sent to email@example.com.
The project underwent two scoping periods – the first from December 2015 to April 2016 and the second from January 2017 to March 2017 – so the two agencies could share project information and invite the public to comment on the scope of the project, potential impacts, or other concerns. WAPA and SMUD considered every public comment received during the public scoping periods, including comments about project study corridor areas and alternatives.
The agencies are currently preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) that is anticipated to be released in 2019. At that time, the public will be invited to review the analysis, attend public meetings to ask questions about the documents, and submit comments on the Draft EIS/EIR. The Final EIS/EIR will include the public comments and responses to them.
What is the project schedule?
WAPA and SMUD initiated the environmental review process on December 18, 2015. A final decision on the project will not be made until after the environmental review process is completed, which is expected in early 2020. If WAPA and SMUD decide to move forward with the proposed project after the environmental review and other preliminary analyses (including regional transmission assessments) are completed, then the agencies would finalize designs and the project construction timeline.
Environmental Review Process
Why is an environmental review being conducted?
Federal and state environmental laws require that WAPA and SMUD identify potentially significant environmental impacts from the proposed CoSu Line and avoid or mitigate those impacts. This is being done through the preparation of a joint EIS/EIR pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). WAPA is the lead federal agency under NEPA and SMUD is the lead agency under CEQA.
The EIS/EIR will examine the potential environmental impacts of constructing and operating the proposed CoSu Line and any modifications to WAPA's and/or SMUD's existing facilities (including potential modifications to SMUD's Elverta Substation) to accommodate the new line.
What phase of the environmental review process are we in?
WAPA and SMUD are conducting an environmental review in the form of a joint EIS/EIR. The Draft EIS/EIR is anticipated to be released in 2019, and the Final EIS/EIR is expected to be published in 2020.
The project's environmental review process began in December 2015 with an initial public scoping period that closed in April 2016. Based on the comments received during that process, WAPA and SMUD added an additional study area approximately 20 miles south of the study areas originally scoped and refined the previously-scoped study area. They held an additional public scoping period between January and March 2017 to take public comments.
What are the environmental impacts of the project?
Potentially significant environmental impacts of the CoSu Line are unknown at this time as WAPA and SMUD are beginning the environmental review process. The scoping process helped determine the range of issues to be addressed in the environmental studies. The Draft EIS/EIR will analyze potential environmental issues including impacts to:
What is Scoping?
Scoping is the earliest phase of the environmental review process in which the public may participate. It is when the lead agencies identify which significant environmental issues should be addressed in the environmental documents, which issues should be treated in greater depth due to the nature of the project and its circumstances, and what existing data and research can be used to study and analyze the impacts. During this phase, the public was encouraged to help identify potential impacts and mitigation measures, siting considerations and existing studies or information that can aid in review of the project. The scoping period closed in March 2017.
Why did WAPA and SMUD hold an additional public scoping period in 2017?
WAPA and SMUD received comments during the initial CoSu Line public scoping period that ended in April 2016, and considered every public comment, including comments about project alternatives. The agencies determined that several options suggested in the comments appear to be feasible, fulfill the project's purpose and need and should be included in the public scoping process. Based on the comments received during that process, WAPA and SMUD added an additional study area approximately 20 miles south of the study areas originally scoped and refined the previously-scoped study areas. Click here to view the project area overview map. This additional public scoping period offered the public an opportunity to review and comment on all study areas previously scoped, slight additions to the previously identified study areas, and a new study area that would connect to the COTP in Yolo County and would terminate near the Elverta Substation in northwestern Sacramento County.
Project Corridor Study Areas vs. Alignments
What is the difference between a corridor study area and project alignment?
The study areas encompass large areas in order to solicit comments during the scoping phase. The project alternatives and ultimate project alignment will be located within the study areas and would occupy a much smaller section of land, and would be determined after considering all the competing impacts within the study area. WAPA and SMUD expect the final project route to be approximately 200 to 250 feet wide.
Is there an identified project alignment?
No, WAPA and SMUD are currently considering and reviewing the following study areas:
- Northern Corridor Study Area: A 44-mile long study area that runs west to east from the COTP near Maxwell in Colusa County to the O'Banion Substation in Sutter County. This study area generally follows an existing 230-kV transmission line corridor.
- Southern Corridor Study Area: A 27-mile long study area that runs west to east from west of Arbuckle to the O'Banion Substation.
- Segment 1 Alternative Study Area: A 9-mile long study area that provides a different north-to-south route of the Northern Corridor Study Area to bypass the Sutter Wildlife Refuge.
- New Study Areas:
- County Road 16 Corridor Study Area (New): A 27-mile long study area that runs west to east from the COTP near Dufour, in Yolo County to the existing Elverta Substation.
- Segment 2 Alternative Study Area (New): A 9-mile long line that runs 6 miles northwest of the existing Elverta Substation and would provide an alternate west-to-east route for the County Road 16 Corridor Study Area.
How were the corridor study areas selected?
The corridor study areas were selected and proposed during the first scoping period from 2015-2016 based off of feedback received from early discussions with stakeholders and the professional judgment of the project team.
WAPA and SMUD received comments during the public scoping period that ended in April 2016. WAPA and SMUD considered every public comment, including comments about project alternatives. WAPA and SMUD determined that several options suggested in the comments appear to be feasible, fulfill the project's purpose and need and should be included in the public scoping process. These options range from slight adjustments to the previously identified study areas to avoid specific concerns to evaluating a different study area to connect the COTP and WAPA/SMUD facilities to south of O'Banion Substation.
What is the difference between a corridor study area and a segment alternative?
The segment alternative would replace a portion of a corridor study area if selected.
This overall study area is pretty big. Will the final project route take up the entire area?
No. The overall study area provides a comprehensive picture of the area and the environmental impacts to be analyzed and planned for during the environmental review process. The final project route (alignment) would occupy a much smaller section of land and would be determined after considering all the competing impacts within the study area. WAPA and SMUD expect the final project route to be approximately 200 to 250 feet wide.
What factors will be prioritized when determining a final project route?
WAPA and SMUD will look to identify an alignment (final project alignment) that has the fewest impacts to landowners and the environment while meeting the purpose and need requirements of the project.
What will the new transmission line look like? Are there going to be tall structures?
WAPA and SMUD are in the very early stages of project development and have not begun detailed transmission line design. Projects of this nature typically involve the construction of single-pole or lattice steel structures to support the 500-kV transmission line. Photos of typical structures used for 500-kV projects can be viewed here. However, structures heights have not yet been determined. Technical considerations, public input and environmental analysis will all be used in designing the transmission structures.
Will the new transmission line interfere with agricultural operations?
Impacts to agricultural resources will be analyzed in the Draft EIS/EIR. Although WAPA and SMUD are aware there would be impacts to agriculture, the evaluation of specific potential impacts will be done during the environmental impacts analysis. WAPA and SMUD will work closely with landowners on designs for transmission facilities that could minimize disturbances to agriculture. This could include the location of the structures, height of the structures, etc.
Will the structures impact planes that conduct aerial spraying?
WAPA and SMUD acknowledge that aerial seeding and spraying is an important tool for some agricultural operators, and we understand there are concerns transmission lines could hinder or affect crop dusters' flight paths and effectiveness. WAPA and SMUD are committed to working with crop dusters and local farmers to identify opportunities for project alignment and design that will minimize potential impacts to these practices.
Will the project lead to loss of farmlands or affect agriculture in other ways?
In areas where the CoSu Line would be located near agricultural land, WAPA will acquire an easement following the "Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970" (Uniform Act). The Uniform Act requires that landowners receive fair market value which would be determined by an appraisal. Generally, landowners can continue to use their property for farming and ranching, provided such uses do not interfere with the operation and maintenance of the transmission line. WAPA and SMUD will work with landowners in agricultural areas on design of facilities to minimize disturbances. This may include the location of structures, the height of structures, access, etc. In orchard areas, the transmission line may be designed to accommodate the orchard or the landowner will be compensated for the loss of the orchard.
How do you intend to balance protection of environmentally-sensitive areas with protection of agricultural land?
Achieving a balance of these important resources is complicated and will depend on site-specific factors.
Will the project be designed with bird strike avoidance in mind? How about impacts to waterfowl, wildlife preserves or other environmentally-sensitive areas?
Impacts to wildlife (including birds) and environmentally-sensitive areas will be evaluated in the Draft EIS/EIR and mitigation will be developed should there be adverse impacts. Site locations and structure design, for example, are considerations that will be evaluated during environmental planning and design to minimize impacts to birds and other wildlife.
If I live close to a proposed route, will WAPA and SMUD need to study my land?
WAPA and SMUD do not intend to study all of the land in the corridor study areas, but will identify project routes within the study areas to study. WAPA representatives will request temporary right-of-entry from landowners so that permission to enter the property and perform necessary studies can be granted. Starting in September 2017, WAPA will contact landowners to explain this process and request temporary right-of-entry for properties in the Northern Corridor and Segment 1 Alternative Study Areas. WAPA and SMUD are focusing right-of-entry along the Northern Corridor and Segment 1 Alternative at this time. The agencies are still evaluating the other two corridors and Segment 2 alternative study areas.
What is Right-of-entry?
Right-of-entry is temporary permission for WAPA representatives to enter a property and perform necessary studies.
How will I know if my property is within the Northern Corridor or Segment 1 Alternative Study Area?
If your property is one in which WAPA needs to request right-of-entry, you will be receiving additional correspondence and phone calls.
Will WAPA and SMUD purchase easements on my property?
At this time, there is no determined final project route (alignment). If the decision is made to move forward with the project, a specific final alignment will be determined and new easements will be required. WAPA acquires easements following the Uniform Act, which would require that the landowner receive fair market value based off an appraisal.
Will eminent domain be used?
WAPA acquires easements following the Uniform Act. The Uniform Act requires the landowner receive fair market value, which is based off an appraisal. Federal law enables WAPA to acquire property rights for public use using eminent domain, if necessary. WAPA uses eminent domain as a last resort, and has a very low condemnation rate overall.
How will the project affect local property values?
For properties directly spanned by a transmission line, WAPA obtains an appraisal to determine the impact an easement would cause on the landowner's entire property. In most cases, property value diminution does not extend beyond the easement area. WAPA will pay fair market value for the easement area, including any reduction in value to the remainder of the property.
How do you plan to work with adjacent landowners?
During all phases of the project - scoping, environmental review, and construction - WAPA and SMUD will work closely with landowners to keep them informed of the project development, and to encourage them to make comments on the scope of the environmental analysis, and alternatives evaluated in the Draft EIS/EIR.
Will the project require ongoing vegetation management that could impact my land or operations?
WAPA employs the use of an "Integrated Vegetation Management Program" to assess and manage vegetation growth within transmission line easements. Maintaining vegetation ensures reliable and cost-effective operation of WAPA's transmission system, and protects the environment and the safety and health of WAPA's employees and the general public. View the Integrated Vegetation Management Program Fact Sheet here.
What types of facilities are being considered as part of the CoSu Line? Will monopoles be utilized?
WAPA and SMUD are in the very early stages of project development and have not begun detailed transmission line design. While projects of this nature typically involve the construction of single-pole or lattice steel structures to support the 500-kV transmission line, the specific structure type used will depend on the nature of the route and input we receive from the public and other stakeholders. Photos of typical structures used for 500-kV projects can be viewed here. Since the configuration of the structures isn't known yet, the heights of the structures (and conductors) is also not known at this time.
The proposed project would also include construction of two new substations. We are in the very early stages of project development and have not begun detailed design. Technical considerations, public input and environmental analysis will all be used in designing the transmission structures.
How many structures will there be per mile?
That has not yet been determined. The distance between each structure is a function of the height of the structure. The taller the structures, the longer the allowable span and the fewer number of structures are needed. WAPA and SMUD will seek public input on the trade-off between fewer, taller structures farther apart or shorter structures that are closer together if the project is approved.
Does WAPA currently have transmission line easements in the corridor study areas?
WAPA does have transmission line easements in the Northern Corridor Study Area which are used by existing transmission lines. The CoSu Line will require the acquisition of new easements for the line, regardless of the study area chosen.
Why does SMUD need to build transmission lines outside of its service area?
In order to secure supply to their customers, most utilities have resources outside of their service territories. SMUD gets power from varied sources including hydropower, natural-gas-fired generators, renewable energy (such as solar and wind power), and power purchased on the wholesale market. One way SMUD can access power is through its rights to transmit energy over the California Oregon Transmission Project (COTP). The COTP connects the electric systems of the Pacific Northwest to those in California, allowing access to lower cost and cleaner energy supplies, such as hydroelectric and wind power. WAPA markets hydroelectric power to SMUD and other customers via the COTP. SMUD requested transmission service on WAPA's facilities between the COTP and SMUD's facilities. However, WAPA's existing transmission facilities do not currently have enough capacity to meet SMUD's request for increased service, so the CoSu Line is being proposed as a solution and would create a new transmission path and additional capacity for SMUD. Moreover, due to seasonal and regional variations, the increased ability to import and export power with the Pacific Northwest would be a benefit to California.
Why does SMUD need to access power sources from the Pacific Northwest?
The Pacific Northwest has plentiful hydroelectric and wind power that is relatively inexpensive and has no carbon or other air emissions. Because the Northwest does not have the same degree of heat and need for air conditioning in the summer as does the Central Valley, sales of Northwestern power are particularly useful during those times. One way SMUD can access this power is through the COTP. Of course, the CoSu Line would also increase the ability to export energy during times of surplus in northern California.
Can you add new transmission lines underground instead of above ground?
500-kV transmission lines are rarely constructed underground due to the higher installation and repair costs and increased repair time. Underground placement has occurred for lower voltages that power homes and businesses and occasionally for short portions of lower voltage, 230-kV lines. Additionally, buried underground lines may have a higher impact to environmental and cultural resources and to the human environment.
Health and Hazards
Are there health risks to living adjacent to a transmission line? I am concerned about EMFs.
WAPA and SMUD recognize the public concern over the possible health effects of electric and magnetic fields (EMFs). EMFs are produced both naturally and as a result of human activity. While primary exposure to EMFs for most people is in the home and at work, WAPA and SMUD realize that some people have concerns about EMFs created by transmission lines. In the 1990s, Congress mandated a comprehensive review of potential EMF effects on health. The studies concluded there is only "weak" evidence that magnetic fields increase the risk of cancer and other human disease. No Federal regulations have established environmental limits on the strengths of EMF from power lines. Research on EMF continues. The Electric and Magnetic Fields Facts booklet can be viewed here.
Will it be hazardous to build transmission lines over the Sacramento River?
WAPA and other utilities have safely built and maintained transmission lines across rivers and other natural features much wider than the Sacramento River.
How close would the transmission lines be to schools, daycare centers or other places where children spend a lot of time?
WAPA typically does not site transmission lines that would span existing inhabitable structures including homes, schools, or daycares, etc. During the environmental analysis phase of the project, WAPA and SMUD will look to identify an alignment (final project route) that has the fewest impacts to landowners and the environment while meeting the purpose and need requirements of the project. Minimizing proximity to such facilities is an important consideration.
Would the CoSu Line increase fire danger in the vicinity?
Major transmission lines, such as CoSu, are designed to a very high safety and reliability standard. It is very rare for these major lines to cause fires.
Operations and Maintenance
How would the CoSu Line be operated and maintained?
WAPA must comply with North American Electric Reliability Corporation and Western Electricity Coordinating Council standards and requirements for transmission system reliability, including maintenance and vegetation management. In order to comply with these requirements, WAPA has a comprehensive Operations and Maintenance (O&M) program for all its property and facilities and those it maintains, including transmission lines, substations, communication facilities, and legal access roads. This O&M program ensures reliability of the transmission systems and safe, all-weather access to the transmission line structures and other WAPA facilities.
Will the project require ongoing vegetation management that could impact my land or operations?
WAPA employs the use of an "Integrated Vegetation Management Program" to assess and manage vegetation growth within transmission line easements. Maintaining vegetation ensures reliable and cost-effective operation of WAPA's transmission system, and protects the environment and the safety and health of WAPA's employees and the general public. The Integrated Vegetation Management Program Fact Sheet can be viewed here.
When do WAPA and SMUD intend to build the project?
There has been no final decision on whether to build the project. WAPA and SMUD would proceed with construction only if the outcome of the environmental impact studies is favorable and the SMUD Board of Directors decides to fund construction. This decision will be made after the Final EIS/EIR is published, which is currently anticipated in 2020.
How much ground disturbance can occur from a project like this?
Ground disturbance might occur from grading construction staging areas, grading and drilling holes for new structure foundations, constructing and improving roads for vehicle and equipment access, establishing pull sites for conductor installation, as well as the expansion of existing and/or construction of new substations. WAPA will work with landowners to repair or pay for any construction damage caused to property. A better approximation of ground disturbance will be determined during the design phase of the project upon completion of the environmental review process.
Would new access roads be needed to construct and maintain the new CoSu Line?
Construction of a new transmission line requires access to each structure site for construction crews, materials and equipment. Access to each site would occur on existing roads, where feasible, or on new roads, if necessary. Existing roads may need to be improved or reinforced to handle the weight of construction materials.
After project construction, existing and new permanent access roads would be used by maintenance crews and vehicles for inspection and maintenance activities. WAPA would acquire an access easement for the permanent access roads and would pay fair market value for that access. Temporary construction roads not required for future maintenance access would be removed and restored to pre-construction conditions to the extent feasible.
How would the new structures be assembled and installed?
Structural components (towers or poles and conductors) would typically be transported to installation sites by truck or helicopter. Structures would be erected with cranes or possibly helicopters. A variety of equipment would be needed to assemble structural equipment.
How many jobs would be created by this project and how long would those jobs last?
At this time we cannot estimate how many workers the project would employ during the construction phase, but construction is expected to last about four years.
Will WAPA utilize union labor during construction?
Use of union labor is unknown at this time. If the project is built, WAPA will procure the construction contract in compliance with governing federal law, including the Davis-Bacon Act.
Would WAPA hire local construction workers?
WAPA will competitively bid the project to qualified contractors. The successful bidder may hire local labor.
How does WAPA intend to restore disturbed areas?
Areas temporarily disturbed by construction would be restored to pre-construction conditions, to the extent feasible. WAPA would re-grade disturbed areas to establish original contours, and redistribute topsoil. Disturbed areas would be seeded with naturalized plant species, free of invasive weeds, in areas not under agricultural cultivation or agricultural surfaces intended for permanent access roads.
What is the estimated project cost?
The initial phase of the CoSu Line (planning, permitting and preliminary engineering) is estimated to cost $8.3 million. The length of the route and construction methods will greatly influence the overall cost and these factors will only be known after the planning and permitting phase. There has been no commitment to fund any portion of the project beyond the initial phase.
How will the project be paid for?
The project will be paid for by SMUD.
Why should SMUD customers pay all of the project costs given that others, including WAPA, would benefit?
The CoSu Line project involves more than the development of the proposed 500-kV transmission line. It also gives SMUD supplemental transmission rights on WAPA's Central Valley Project (230-kV) transmission system and would provide a complete path from the COTP to SMUD. These combined rights greatly increase SMUD's beneficial use of the COTP and its ability to participate in regional renewable energy markets, both in terms of imports and exports. This is a significant benefit to SMUD customers and would likely exceed the cost of the proposed transmission line. Moreover, a dynamic system like the electrical grid can allow third parties to benefit from another's addition of resources, both directly and indirectly, and SMUD customers benefit from other entities' systems.
Will SMUD have to raise rates to pay for this project? What will be the impact on customer bills?
If approved, the CoSu Line would likely be funded through municipal bonds. Over the life of the CoSu Line asset (50 years), SMUD expects the project would pay for itself by enabling more robust market transactions and by providing more cost effective options for meeting power demands.