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    The Compost: Pros and cons of burying electric power lines ?

    September 12, 2023 - Brooke Staggs


      Welcome to The Compost, a weekly newsletter on key environmental news impacting Southern California. Subscribe now to get it in your inbox! In today's edition…


      The broader debate over whether power lines should be moved underground is pitting homeowners against business groups, neighboring cities against one another and city leaders against the local utility company in western Riverside County.

      Southern California Edison has spent a dozen years developing plans for an above-ground transmission project along the Santa Ana River, through portions of Jurupa Valley, Norco and Riverside. Construction was supposed to begin this summer, but has been delayed as some community leaders push to make the utility bury the lines underground.

      It's a complex issue, with strong defenses on both sides of the debate.

      Here are seven arguments in favor of underground power lines:

      1. It virtually eliminates the risk of lines sparking a fire or electrocuting anyone.

      2. It's better for aesthetics.

      3. It's better for property values.

      4. The odds of a potentially costly or even deadly power outage go down, since lines are protected from extreme weather, fallen branches or getting taken out by cars.

      5. They don't require space above ground that could be used for other purposes.

      6. Utilities don't have to spend money to constantly trim trees, or face liability for not doing that maintenance.

      7. They're harder for bad actors to target.

      Here are seven arguments in favor of above-ground power lines:

      1. It's up to 10 times more expensive, which can raise utility bills for everyone.

      2. Cheaper measures, such as coating wires, can reduce fire risk.

      3. It's easier to find and fix problems, so outages tend to be shorter.

      4. The lines are quicker to install, which can help speed electrification needed to slow climate change.

      5. They tend to last longer, per some studies.

      6. They're less likely to face problems with flooding or overheating.

      7. Crews don't have to dig up property to install them.

      State regulators soon may be forced to weigh in on the Riverside County project, as the city of Norco prepares a petition asking the California Public Utilities Commission to make Edison bury the lines.

      In response to my story on these issues, one reader wrote:

      "It's quite ridiculous that Edison is even fighting the move to underground in a high wildfire exposure area."

      Another said:

      "It's so costly and time consuming to underground existing lines. All bare wires should be coated ASAP."

      How this all shakes out could offer clues about which direction we're headed, as the race to electrify our warming world heats up.

      — By Brooke Staggs, environment reporter



      Heat deaths are up: It is getting hotter. But that's not the only reason heat-related illness and deaths in California and the U.S. are on the rise, reports Phillip Reese with KFF Health News. He found that increases in drug use and homelessness also are contributing to the problem, which is only expected to get worse as climate change accelerates. …READ MORE…

      * Key quote: "The problem is we're reaching the human limit of adapting to temperature."

      Help wanted: Most Californians are worried about extreme heat and want the government to do more to help, according to a new poll covered by Hayley Smith with the Los Angeles Times. Voters in the Inland Empire, Central Valley and Los Angeles County say they're being impacted the most. …READ MORE…



      Another wet winter very possible: El Niño is coming this winter. And it looks like it could be a whopper thanks to warming oceans, rising seas and more, reports Phil Diehl with The San Diego Union-Tribune. Powerful winter storms could trigger flooding, coastal erosion and landslides. So weather experts are recommending Southern Californians start getting ready by taking steps such as clearing rain gutters and checking roofs for leaks. …READ MORE…

      * History: Last time we had a destructive El Niño season was the winter of 1997-98, when storm-related damage statewide exceeded $1 billion.



      Self-driving shuttles in the IE?: Autonomous electric shuttles could be tested on Riverside streets starting next year. Samantha Gowen reports city officials are in advanced talks to bring Ohmio, a New Zealand-based manufacturer, to the Inland Empire's biggest city. …READ MORE…

      Shorter waits coming: "It will save lots of time for tens of thousands of Metro riders." Steve Scauzillo has news about LA Metro's plans to boost the frequency of some subway trains in hopes of reducing wait times and luring new riders. Ridership is still bouncing back from pandemic-era hits, with long waits among the most common complaints. …READ MORE…

      Bye to rebate program: California is dropping its popular electric car rebate program to focus on subsidies of up to $12,000 for lower-income car buyers, Alejandro Lazo with CalMatters reports. The state's 13-year-old Clean Vehicle Rebate Project will be replaced with one that offers rebates to Californians making up to $43,740 for an individual and $90,000 for a family of four. …READ MORE…

      Oil companies beware: California's new oil czar shared more information about how the state's gas price-gouging law will work, and Rob Nikolewski with The San Diego Union-Tribune covered the press conference. "We will ask a simple question," Tai Milder, director of the newly created Division of Petroleum Market Oversight, said. "Are consumers getting ripped off? If the answer is yes, we will act." …READ MORE…


      Get a roundup of the best climate and environment news delivered to your inbox each week by signing up for The Compost.



      That stinks: Asthma attacks, bloody noses and nausea are among health conditions residents near the Chiquita Canyon Landfill have reported due to noxious odors. Steve Scauzillo reports the local AQMD has imposed 40 conditions to address the issue. …READ MORE…

      * Background: Residents have been reporting these issues for months, with 1,200 complaints filed since May.

      New limits on acid pits: Gov. Gavin Newsom just signed into law a bill that will further limit which materials can be stored at the notorious Stringfellow Acid Pits in Jurupa Valley, Sarah Hofmann reports. …READ MORE…



      Ships lag: Efforts to reduce emissions at the Port of LA are paying off, Donna Littlejohn reports. But emissions from ships increased last year, as vessels get bigger and run more often. And local regulators say there isn't much they can do about that. …READ MORE…



      Climate leaders among us: Among Grist's "50 climate leaders driving fresh solutions to our planet's biggest problems," two are from Long Beach and one is from Los Angeles. Check them out and see the full list of changemakers. …READ MORE…



      All aboard: A one-third scale electric train just replaced the propane-powered locomotive that had transported hundreds of thousands of passengers around a loop at Irvine Park Railroad since the mid-1990s. Our Lou Ponsi has the story, with great photos by Jeff Gritchen. If you've never visited the park (which is actually in Orange) or if it's been a while, take this as your cue to check it out. Along with the train, the 495-acre park includes a small zoo; trails for walking, cycling and horseback riding; lots of picnic areas; a lake with paddle boats for rent; ball fields and more. …READ MORE…


      PITCH IN

      Think before you buy: For this week's tip on how Southern Californians can help the environment… One of the best things we all can do for the environment is to stop buying so much stuff. Even if the products are made sustainably, the resources it takes to create and transport them take a toll. So before you click "buy" on your next digital cart, stop and think: Do I really need this? Could I repair something I have instead? Or borrow from a friend? Or buy a used version, at least? The planet, and your wallet, will thank you.


      Thanks for reading, Composters! And don't forget to sign up to get The Compost delivered to your inbox.


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