City of Chino Hills asks CPUC to order Southern California Edison to submit report on undergrounding TRTP

The city of Chino Hills, Calif., has asked state regulators to order Southern California Edison (SCE) to take two specific steps as it evaluates an underground transmission option for the section of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) that crosses Chino Hills (Docket No. A07-06-031).

In a Nov. 2 motion the city filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) the city asked that SCE be ordered to prepare and file a detailed report “specifying the contracts for services and materials that it must enter into, the transmission cable and/or other materials it must order (including any necessary deposits), [and] the deadlines for executing such contracts so that a December 31, 2015 commercial operation date for the TRTP can be met.”

Chino Hills also asked that SCE be ordered to submit a proposal that clearly defines the “reasonable assurance” it requires from the CPUC that the commission will support rate recovery of the costs incurred for evaluating the undergrounding of the TRTP through Chino Hills should the commission later decide to allow the project to remain above ground.

The municipality also proposed a modified procedural schedule consisting of two separate tracks. One would result in an interim decision on contracting and rate recovery issues by Feb. 28, while the other would facilitate a final decision on whether to order the line placed underground by July 11, 2013.

The city’s motion is the latest chapter in the ongoing dispute over Segment 8A of the TRTP, a five-mile stretch of transmission that extends through the city, including 3.5 miles that go through what the city describes as “densely populated residential neighborhoods.”

The motion came in response to a letter SCE sent to CPUC President Michael Peevey on Oct. 29 regarding his July 2 order that the utility develop testimony based on preliminary engineering studies of two of the undergrounding options that SCE had presented in its earlier submittals.

In its letter, SCE noted that it was developing the design, schedule, and specifications for constructing an underground line, and that it would seek bids to provide a basis for its cost estimates.

However, the utility said it was facing a no-win situation.

Although seeking bids, SCE said it would not normally enter into any contracts without a final decision from the CPUC. Waiting for a final decision in this case – expected in late 2013 – would mean that the project’s December 2015 target date would not be met, SCE said. The utility cited previous testimony that “the process from commission decision to operation is projected to take approximately 39 months.”

The alternative, expediting the process by entering into contracts before the commission renders a final decision, could also be problematic. If the CPUC ultimately chose not to order the lines placed underground, SCE could be faced with stranded costs incurred while evaluating and planning for an underground option.

As a possible solution, SCE requested that the commission “allow certain critical work to proceed in parallel with the commission’s ongoing process to evaluate whether to” order the line placed underground, while also providing “reasonable assurance that the commission will support rate recovery of the costs incurred” in evaluating an underground option if the underground option is rejected.

In its motion, the city restated a position placed into the record previously, that it supports the request of several renewable energy developers that requested “a more expeditions schedule to reach a final decision on the design of Segment 8A,” a position also supported by SCE in its Oct. 29 letter to Peevey.

Several entities, including other utilities, municipalities, and developers, have also gone on record stating that failure to meet the 2015 completion date for the TRTP would jeopardize the state’s ability to meet its renewable energy targets.

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