Solar developer seeks to join Chino Hills dispute

First Solar has asked the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) for party status in the ongoing battle over the section of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) that runs through the city of Chino Hills, Calif. (Docket No. A07-06-031).

In its Aug. 9 filing with the CPUC, First Solar said it has “the largest portfolio of utility-scale solar PV projects in California and bordering states [with] more than 2,500 MW of solar PV projects within California that are in various stages of development and construction.”

Some of those projects, it said, have power purchase agreements (PPAs) with California investor-owned utilities, which will rely upon the TRTP to ensure delivery.

“The re-opening of [the matter] is having direct contractual and development implications to these projects now,” the developer said, noting a particular concern with the potential for delay of Segment 8A of the TRTP, which passes through Chino Hills.

When contacted by TransmissionHub Aug. 10, a First Solar representative said the company would not comment beyond what is contained in its filing.

TRTP developer Southern California Edison (SCE) began constructing a five-mile stretch of the 250-mi, 500-kV project through Chino Hills in May 2011, but residents objected after the first tubular steel poles were erected, claiming their visual impact was far greater than previously envisioned.

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 ordered SCE to provide the CPUC with information on alternate routes.

The two sides returned to court March 19 for a prehearing conference before a CPUC administrative law judge. In the weeks that followed, the two sides held five ex parte meetings with representatives of three CPUC members to state their respective cases.

On May 3, CPUC President Michael Peevey announced that the two sides had entered confidential settlement negotiations.

As an outgrowth of three prehearing conferences, Peevey on July 2 issued an assigned commissioner’s ruling requiring SCE to provide more detailed testimony based on preliminary engineering studies of two single-circuit underground options for transmission lines.

Chino Hills has pursued the undergrounding of the lines through public outreach, the news media, and in meetings with CPUC officials.

On July 30, in a meeting initiated by Chino Hills, the city counsel and city manager held a 90-minute ex parte discussion with Peevey, the CPUC’s executive director, and its general counsel, on the underground options.

During the meeting, Chino Hills’ representatives discussed “the feasible underground transmission options and the merits of such a proposal in comparison to SCE’s adopted overhead transmission route,” according to the notice of ex parte communication issued by the CPUC Aug. 2.

SCE’s supplemental testimony is due at the CPUC by Feb. 28, 2013.

In its filing, First Solar indicated a concern with issues relating to the timing of TRTP completion in accordance with the scope and procedural schedule described in Peevey’s ruling.

For its part, the CPUC has shown an understanding of the importance of timing.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that time is of the essence in getting this line completed and energized by 2015,” Peevey said in his July 2 ruling. “We must enable the delivery of electric generation over the project on the schedule currently anticipated.”

The $2.2bn project, which will be capable of moving up to 4,500 MW of renewable energy from the Tehachapi, Calif., area to population centers in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties in California, is scheduled to be in service in 2015, according to Peevey’s July 2 ruling.

California’s 33% renewable portfolio standard becomes effective in 2020.

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