SCE, ratepayer advocates, submit dueling filings in Tehachapi project

Southern California Edison (SCE) on April 9 added to the list of testimony it wants California regulators to strike in the ongoing question of how best to complete Segment 8A of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) through the city of Chino Hills, Calif. (Docket No. A07-06-031).

At the heart of this latest request is testimony filed by the California Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) on April 5 that suggests a stretch of 500-kV transmission line through the city of Chino Hills, whether underground or overhead, may no longer be necessary. The testimony prepared by Charles Mee, a senior utilities engineer with the DRA, asserts that conditions have changed significantly since the project was originally approved in 2009 and that new transmission projects have created network improvements that may negate the need for the Chino Hills portion of the project. Alternatively, as the DRA’s acting director previously told TransmissionHub, augmenting the existing system with a lower-voltage line along existing right-of-way could achieve the original project planning goals and make a 500-kV line through the city of Chino Hills unnecessary.

The DRA’s testimony cited figures by the CPUC’s energy division showing that, while the TRTP as designed would have the capacity to carry 4,500 MW of energy, only 2,176 MW of renewable energy will come from the Tehachapi competitive renewable energy zone (CREZ). In addition, the DRA cited the development of more demand-side resources than previously estimated, the addition of more CREZs in eastern California, and a planned upgrade to an SCE substation, among other things.

In its testimony, the DRA summarized three requests it made of the CPUC: that it not “rush to make a decision on completion of this segment because renewable generators are not being harmed by this minor delay”; that it re-examine the need to complete Segment 8A in light of the concerns of the local community and consider new information that indicates a smaller line or no line option may be warranted; and, if a 500-kV line is determined to be necessary for Segment 8A, that the CPUC re-confirm the original above-ground alignment.

Contemporaneously with its testimony, the DRA filed a motion to amend the scope of the reopened proceedings.

“Given that the commission has decided to reconsider options for the portion of the Tehachapi line running through Chino Hills – specifically, undergrounding the portion of the 500-kV transmission line running through Chino Hills – we believe these changed circumstances create an additional obligation on the commission to examine the alternatives in light of new information on safety, reliability, and need,” the DRA said in its motion.

SCE responded to the DRA’s testimony with its own motion filed April 9, asking that the CPUC strike the DRA’s testimony as being “outside the narrow scope of the prepared testimony ordered” by the assigned commissioner’s scoping memo issued July 2, 2012 and amended scoping memo issued Nov. 15, 2012. According to the CPUC’s memos, the matter before the commission is whether to place Segment 8A through the city of Chino Hills underground, or whether the aboveground alignment in the original approval was still the best option.

Only one portion of the DRA’s testimony went uncontested. That portion dealt with five underground options identified by SCE, three variations on those options submitted by the city of Chino Hills, and a table reflecting the costs of those options as well as the approved overhead alignment.

In a companion motion also filed April 9, SCE requested that the commission require responses to the motion to strike be filed no later than April 12, providing SCE the opportunity to raise arguments in reply at a prehearing conference scheduled for April 15, and to “efficiently narrow the issues in advance of the evidentiary hearings” set to begin on April 22.

The TRTP is a 250-mile, $2.5bn project intended to move up to 4,500 MW of renewable energy generated in the wind- and solar-rich area around Tehachapi, Calif., to the major load centers in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.

Work on the project began shortly after the CPUC approved its certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) in 2009 but work on Segment 8A, which traverses the city of Chino Hills, was halted on Nov. 10, 2011, after citizens complained that the 200-foot towers had a greater impact than envisioned, and requested a rehearing of the order granting the CPCN for an overhead line.

A decision on whether the portion of the project through Chino Hills should be placed underground is anticipated in July, according to the CPUC.

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)