Evidentiary hearing to convene on Tehachapi project

Parties to California’s Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) will begin presenting their cases during a week-long evidentiary hearing scheduled to begin on April 22, with parties on all sides of the issue advocating for either an above-ground or underground alignment of Segment 8A, the portion of the project that passes through the city of Chino Hills, Calif. (Docket No. A07-06-031).

Representatives of project developer Southern California Edison (SCE), the city of Chino Hills, Calif., and other interested parties will appear before Michael Peevey, the president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and CPUC administrative law judge (ALJ) Jean Vieth at the CPUC’s office in San Francisco.

In the months leading up to the hearings, a number of organizations and individuals filed testimony with the CPUC, attesting to a number of facets of the project including the “environmental and social” impact of the steel poles erected in Chino Hills, the potential impact of undergrounding a portion of the project, the cost of undergrounding, the sharing of those costs, and the need to complete Segment 8A in light of circumstances that have changed since the project was originally approved in 2009.

SCE countered that many of the items of presented testimony were “outside the narrow scope of the prepared testimony ordered” by the assigned commissioner’s scoping memo issued in July 2012, and amended scoping memo issued in November 2012. Those memos stated that the commission would consider whether to place Segment 8A through Chino Hills underground, or whether the above-ground alignment in the original approval was still the best option. SCE filed several motions requesting that testimony not directly related to that narrow question be stricken from the record.

Representatives of the parties filing the testimony and the rebuttals discussed their positions during a pre-hearing briefing before the ALJ on April 15.

SCE’s motion to strike testimony filed by California’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) about the current need for Segment 8A was denied, but the DRA will be allowed to use that testimony for the limited purpose of arguing that the CPUC should not allow undergrounding.

The DRA will not be allowed to use its testimony to support or promote any other recommendation such as asking the CPUC to reconsider the need for Segment 8A or take more time to reach a decision, a spokesperson for the DRA who attended the pre-hearing briefing told TransmissionHub April 19.

In addition, DRA’s motion to amend the scope of the proceeding to include consideration of the current need for the segment was denied.

SCE’s motion to strike portions of Chino Hill’s testimony was granted in part and denied in part, with the ALJ reviewing the testimony line by line and striking the majority of the contested testimony, according to the DRA spokesperson.

Following the evidentiary hearings, parties will prepare opening briefs, which must be filed with the CPUC by May 6. Reply briefs are due May 13. A proposed decision is scheduled to be filed by June 11 and considered publicly at the commission’s July 11 meeting. By commission rules, a proposed decision must be issued at least 30 days in advance of the meeting at which it will be considered. In the interim, interested parties will be able to file comments on the proposed decision.

The dispute dates to May 2007, when Chino Hills began reviewing the project as proposed by SCE. The city determined that the proposed alignment of approximately three miles of 500-kV double-circuit transmission towers and power lines through densely populated residential neighborhoods was unacceptable and proposed alternative routes it believed would have a lesser impact than the proposed alignment.

Ultimately, the city’s alternatives were rejected and, in December 2009, the CPUC authorized construction of the project, including an above-ground alignment along an existing right-of-way (ROW) that runs through Chino Hills. SCE began constructing a five-mile stretch of the 250-mile line through the city in May 2011.

When the first of the 200-foot tubular steel pole towers were erected, residents objected. The CPUC ultimately ordered SCE to halt work on the Chino Hills portion of the project and to provide possible alternate routes. Subsequently, SCE was ordered to provide the CPUC with detailed information on such possible alternate routes, including underground options, for the portion that passes through Chino Hills.

SCE and the city started mediation under the CPUC’s alternative dispute resolution program, but that effort was suspended after the two parties were unable to reach agreement.

The parties have been in front of the CPUC frequently since mediation broke down in March 2012, have met with CPUC officials and staff, and have petitioned the CPUC for various modifications that would allow work to continue even as the dispute was unresolved.

SCE sought and was granted authority to recover up to $33m in costs related to preparing detailed testimony about the cost of placing Segment 8A underground, should the CPUC ultimately uphold the above-ground alignment it orignally ordered.

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)