Chino Hills advocates: All ratepayers will pay for cost of undergrounding TRTP lines

Representatives of the advocacy group Hope for the Hills say it is appropriate that all California ratepayers share the cost of undergrounding the portion of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project that will run through the city of Chino Hills, Calif. (Docket No. A07-06-031).

In preliminary testimony filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Dec. 3, project developer Southern California Edison (SCE) provided cost estimates that showed undergrounding a 3.5-mile stretch of the 500-kV project through Chino Hills would cost between three and five times what it would cost to run the lines overhead.

Specifically, SCE estimated that the cost of the underground options would range from $486m to $807m, compared to $172m for running the lines overhead.

A representative of Hope for the Hills said the utility’s figures are unrealistically high.

“Those figures that Edison presented are between $60m and $120m overstated,” Bob Goodwin, Hope for the Hills president, told TransmissionHub Dec. 11. “The costs are grossly exaggerated by anybody’s estimate except Edison’s.”

SCE’s estimates for the underground alignments include a 50% contingency for unforeseen expenses, compared to a 15% contingency in the estimate for an above-ground alignment. At the time the testimony was filed, an SCE spokesperson told TransmissionHub the estimates were preliminary and subject to change because SCE is required to file additional testimony by the end of February 2013.

Regardless of the final cost estimates, Goodwin said the costs will be – and should be – borne by ratepayers statewide.

“At the end of the day, this project benefits the entire state; the entire state will ultimately pay for this, regardless of whether it’s above ground or below ground,” he said, referring to CPUC directives stating that the costs of the project will be spread among all California ratepayers.

While the project is pivotal in helping the state reach its renewable portfolio standard of 33% by 2020, critics have charged that the undergrounding is a local issue tied directly to the community’s preference.

Goodwin disagreed, pointing to alternative routes that SCE rejected, which would have cost as much as placing the lines underground.

“The city had outlined a [longer] route through Chino Hills State Park,” he said, “So reduce 10.5 miles of construction costs, you’ve already got the cost of undergrounding paid for.”

Goodwin charged that the utility is doing everything in its power to make undergrounding a less attractive alternative because it doesn’t want to set a precedent.

“I’ve been in meetings where they have specifically stated that, if they have to [build] underground in Chino Hills, this will set a precedent state-wide, and they don’t want to go up against that,” he said.

Goodwin emphasized that his group understands the need for transmission to get renewable energy from where it is generated to where it will be used.

“This is not a NIMBY issue,” he said. “We support green energy, we support alternative energy, but it has to come with responsibility and accountability in making those types of decisions as to where and when you construct something of this magnitude.”

As far as SCE is concerned, however, “It’s green energy but it’s green as in dollars, not green as in environmentally,” he said. “It’s profits over people.”

Calls seeking comment from SCE were not returned by press time Dec. 11.

Once completed, the $2.5bn 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.

According to TransmisisonHub data, the entire project will run 250 miles when completed. The portion of the project that runs through the city of Chino Hills is targeted to be energized in 2015.

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