Morongo tribe partners with Southern California Edison on upgrade to transmission lines

Tuesday, July 20, 2021
By Amanda Ulrich

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians plans to use existing Southern California Edison power lines, a section of which cross its reservation in Banning, to help connect solar, wind and battery resources to the regional power grid.

Morongo partnered with the utility company to develop and finance part of an upgrade to the transmission lines, the tribe reported in a press release Monday.

Morongo Transmission LLC, a partnership between the tribe as majority owner and a New York-registered investment company called Coachella Partners LLC, will operate the project. SCE was able to gain new rights-of-way across the Banning reservation, according to the tribe, while Morongo Transmission LLC was permitted to lease a percentage of the project’s transfer capability.

In return for financing a portion of the project alongside SCE, the tribe will “share in the proceeds” of the transmission lines, Morongo spokesperson Phil Southard said.

Morongo said in the release that it is the first Native American tribe in the country to be approved as a participating transmission owner, or an entity that owns or operates power lines.

“Morongo is honored to be making history once again as the first tribe in the nation to be a participating transmission owner,” said Charles Martin, the tribe’s chairman.

“Our tribe has a deep connection to the environment, and the agreement by Morongo Transmission to lease capacity on Southern California Edison’s newly upgraded system will further that legacy by delivering green energy resources to the Southern California power grid.”

Morongo’s involvement is part of a broader effort from SCE to deliver more renewable power to the Southern California region.

The partnership falls under Southern California Edison’s West of Devers Upgrade, a project several years in the making that replaced nearly 50 miles of aging power lines between a substation near Palm Springs and San Bernardino.

The project tripled the system’s capacity to transmit power generated by renewable resources to major population centers in Southern California, according to the tribe. Those specific renewable energy projects, like solar farms, are located in more eastern parts of Riverside County, Imperial County and outside the state. Southard added that none of the renewable energy sources are located on the Morongo reservation.

Southard did not have specific figures on Monday for the project’s financial impact on the tribe.

In February, the Board of Governors for the California Independent System Operator approved Morongo Transmission’s application to join the nonprofit, a first for a federally recognized tribe. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission then finalized all necessary approvals to allow operations by Morongo Transmission earlier this month.

Elliot Mainzer, CAISO’s board president and CEO, praised Morongo and SCE in February “for their creativity and flexibility in developing an innovative ownership structure that enables this critical transmission project to proceed,” the press release said.