Calif. independent energy producers call for decision on TRTP by November

California’s Independent Energy Producers Association (IEPA) is urging the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to make a decision on undergrounding the segment of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) that runs through the city of Chino Hills, Calif., by November (Docket No. A07-06-031).

On July 2, CPUC president Michael Peevey issued an assigned commissioner ruling (ACR) requiring developer Southern California Edison (SCE) to provide testimony based on preliminary engineering studies of two undergrounding options for the line’s Segment 8A by Feb. 28, 2013. However, in a two-page letter sent to all five CPUC members, staffers, and a CPUC administrative law judge, the group said that was too long to wait.

“There ought to be something short of a full engineering study that [provides] a best estimate of whether this is a $50m effort, a $150m effort, or a $500m effort,” the group’s executive director, Jan Smutny-Jones, told TransmissionHub Aug. 13.

“Our concern is that any sort of significant delay on this section of the line will have adverse impacts on renewables projects that are beginning to come on line,” he said.

As a compromise, the IEPA recommended that the CPUC, “in parallel … direct the utility to prepare a preliminary technical and cost estimate of the underground option(s) on an expedited basis such that an estimate of the undergrounding option may be presented for consideration by the commission (and interested parties) with a final decision planned for no later than October 2012,” Smutny-Jones said in the letter.

“It should be feasible to make a decision as to the preferred option based on a preliminary, best engineering cost comparison of the various options on a more generic cost/MW-mile basis,” he said. “[T]his type of evaluation could be completed by November 2012 … and, thus, may help expedite decision-making.”

“Under this recommended approach, the commission (and interested parties) will be positioned to consider the general cost implications in a rational, realistic manner up front, while not in any way delaying the conduct of the more detailed cost analyses that will be critical … if [undergrounding] is the path the commission ultimately chooses,” the letter continued.

The schedule – as currently set for the presentation of the required technical studies, subsequent hearings, briefings, and a decision – “provides only two years to construct and complete the unfinished segments of the Tehachapi project and remain on schedule for planned energizing by 2015,” Smutny-Jones said.

“Importantly, this schedule provides only one year to construct and complete Section 8, [composed] of the important 500-kV sections, and remain on schedule for planned energizing in 2014,” he continued.

Based on the CPUC’s approval of the original certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN), developers were awarded contracts and have been actually building facilities, and many of those are about to come on line, he said.

“To the extent that they can’t get to market, you have a significant risk associated with curtailment because there’s insufficient transmission,” Smutny-Jones said.

Delaying a determination about Segment 8A beyond November “significantly increases the financial risk to renewable developers that relied on the original transmission schedule in their interconnection agreements,” he added.

If preliminary figures make it clear that undergrounding is not feasible, then only five months will have passed instead of the 18 months or more under the ACR schedule, Smutny-Jones said. Under those circumstances, “presumably SCE can proceed with construction in the fall of 2012 rather than await a final determination in the fall of 2013.”

“Time is of the essence here,” he concluded.

The city of Chino Hills declined to comment on the matter. Calls seeking comments from the CPUC, and SCE were not returned by press time Aug. 13.

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