California regulators decline to change proposed decision on TRTP

An administrative law judge (ALJ) with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has declined to change a proposed decision that would allow Southern California Edison (SCE) to seek recovery of costs associated with evaluating the underground placement of Segment 8A of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) through the city of Chino Hills, Calif. (Docket No. A07-06-131).

A revised version of the proposed decision, dated Feb. 28, referenced comments filed after the original deadline by SCE, Chino Hills, the state’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA), and Terra-Gen Power, on the proposed ruling published by ALJ Jean Vieth on Jan. 29, as well as reply comments filed by SCE and Chino Hills.

Both SCE and the city of Chino Hills supported swift adoption of the proposed decision. Terra-Gen Power advocated adding “the cost of making renewable energy developers whole for the adverse financial impacts of added delay” to the proposed decision, while the DRA’s comments alleged “legal errors” in the proposed decision and urged that the commission reject it.

However, the redlined version of the 18-page draft decision indicated that none of the comments or reply comments raised issues that would convince the ALJ to change the original draft language, which concluded that it was in the public interest for SCE to undertake certain specified pre-construction activities and to incur the costs associated with those activities prior to a decision on placing Segment 8A underground.

In the updated version, Vieth wrote that the draft order “provides SCE with both the direction and the authority to do all of the things it has persuaded us it must do to keep an undergrounding option procedurally viable in advance of our decision on the merits, while safeguarding timely completion of the TRTP.”

The draft order acknowledged that such an interim decision is unusual, but took issue with DRA’s assertion that the opinion would be only advisory in nature.

“DRA incorrectly characterizes it as an advisory opinion and the authority on which DRA relies readily can be distinguished from the circumstances here,” Vieth wrote. “The ordering paragraphs require SCE to undertake real actions within the next several months and they specify what SCE must do or cease to do should we determine not to authorize the undergrounding of Segment 8A.”

SCE sought the commission’s support for rate recovery of up to $33m in costs the utility determined it would need to incur prior to a final commission decision on undergrounding if the project is to begin commercial operation in late 2015, as scheduled.

In the event that the CPUC declines to authorize the undergrounding, the draft decision directs SCE to “cease all expenditures toward that end and shall immediately cancel cable manufacture and installation contracts associated with undergrounding Segment 8A.”

That decision is still pending before the full commission, and a decision is expected in July, according to a scoping memo issued by CPUC President Michael Peevey on Nov. 15, 2012.

The proposed decision has been placed on the consent agenda for the commission’s Feb. 28 meeting. The decision would become effective immediately upon approval by the full CPUC.

When completed, the 250-mile, $2.5bn, 500-kV project 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.

SCE has 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’s renewable portfolio standard calls for 33% renewable energy by 2020.

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