SCE, city of Chino Hills meet separately with CPUC officials

Representatives of Southern California Edison (SCE) and the city of Chino Hills, Calif., held five meetings with representatives of three members of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on March 28 and 29 to discuss the ongoing dispute over the alignment of the portion of SCE’s Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project that runs through the city.

SCE officials met with Commissioner Timothy Simon and an advisor, and both SCE and the city of Chino Hills met separately with advisors to commissioners Michel Florio and Mark Ferron.

The meetings were disclosed through notices of ex parte communications issued by the CPUC on April 7 under the CPUC’s rules of practice and procedure.

At issue is the city of Chino Hills’ petition to modify the CPUC’s December 2009 authorization of construction of the portion of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) that runs through Chino Hills.

Because the discussions were oral discussions, precise details are not available. However, the notices of ex parte communication indicate the two sides brought different messages to CPUC representatives. The city of Chino Hills focused on the cost of various route alternatives, while SCE made the case that there are no new environmental impacts warranting reopening the proceedings.

Legal counsel for the city of Chino Hills presented commission representatives with three tables containing cost comparisons of the various alternatives and, according to the notice, discussed the feasible underground transmission options and the merits of such a proposal in comparison to SCE’s adopted overhead transmission route.

The tables showed that the cost of underground options ranged from $300m for a single-circuit line, underground option 12; to $1.22bn for a double-circuit line, alternative 5 GIL underground. The cost of the overhead routing previously approved by the CPUC is estimated at $166m for the portion that runs through Chino Hills. An option for an overhead line using shorter structures was estimated at $186m.

SCE’s representatives made two primary assertions in the written materials used to facilitate their discussions. SCE’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs and its associate general counsel said there is no evidence of new or changed material facts warranting the reopening of proceedings before the CPUC that were not, or could not have been, presented during the certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) process. They also said there is no substantial evidence of new significant environmental impacts warranting the reopening of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) record.

SCE presented a number of photographs of the existing transmission towers, as well as simulations of how the new towers would look.

SCE began constructing a five-mile stretch of the 250-mile, 500-kV TRTP through the city in May 2011, but residents objected after the first tubular steel poles were erected, claiming their visual and economic impact was far greater than previously envisioned.

“The [SCE] simulations were very accurate,” a city spokesperson told TransmissionHub in a March 16 interview. “[But] there’s no greater impact than to see them first-hand; pictures can’t do them justice.”

“From the very beginning, we understood the need for power and the desire for what they’re considering to be green power; that has never been an issue,” the spokesperson said. “It’s always been about overburdening the easements” with structures that are too large for the easement.

The city filed an objection with the CPUC, which ordered on Nov. 10, 2011, that work on the Chino Hills stretch of the project be halted, and SCE was ordered to provide the CPUC with information on alternate routes.

In February, the two sides started mediation under the CPUC’s alternative dispute resolution program but “were not able to reach agreement on a resolution that met the needs of both parties,” the two sides said in a March 6 joint statement announcing that mediation had been suspended.

The two sides were last in the courtroom on March 19 for a prehearing conference before an administrative law judge regarding the ongoing dispute over the siting of power lines through the city. As of press time, a hearing date had not been set.

SCE has previously called the Tehachapi project, “a critically important, high-voltage transmission line, the timely completion of which is essential for California’s progress toward its aggressive renewable energy goals.” California has a mandate to obtain 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Once completed, the $2.2bn Tehachapi project will be capable of delivering up to 4,500 MW of wind energy from the Tehachapi area to population centers in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties in California, according to SCE’s website.

SCE is a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE:EIX).