California regulators to publish proposed Tehachapi project decision by June 11

With a little more than a week before the anticipated issuance of a proposed decision on the question of whether to place a portion of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) underground through the city of Chino Hills, Calif., the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is reviewing testimony presented at the April 22 evidentiary hearing, and briefs and reply briefs subsequently submitted by interested parties (Docket No. A07-06-031).

Parties that have weighed in include project developer Southern California Edison (SCE), Chino Hills, and the California Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA). Other parties to the proceedings include the Edison Electric Institute, the Independent Energy Producers’ Association, and other organizations representing renewable energy producers.

While the most recent briefs submitted by SCE and Chino Hills have not been made publicly available as part of the record, both parties’ positions have been stated in prior filings.

Chino Hills’ position is that the visual and economic impacts of the overhead towers originally approved by the CPUC in its 2009 decision approving the project is far greater than anticipated. The city and many of its residents want the 3.5 miles of lines that traverse their community placed underground.

In testimony filed with the CPUC on Dec. 3, 2012,  SCE estimated that the cost of the underground options would range from $486m to $807m, compared to $172m for running the lines overhead. Since then, it 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 originally ordered. SCE has also warned there is “significant risk” that the project will not meet its anticipated Dec. 31, 2015 in-service date if the segment is ordered to be built underground.

In its brief filed with the CPUC May 6, the DRA stated its opposition to undergrounding the Chino Hills portion of the project and said the benefits don’t justify the considerably higher costs.

In its filing, DRA cited cost estimates for undergrounding the section of Segment 8A that passes through Chino Hills ranging from $156m to $523m, resulting in a cost of between $44.6m and $149.2m per mile for an underground alignment. By comparison, the cost of each mile of overhead line approved for Segments 4 through 11 is $11.2m, DRA stated in its brief.

Further, DRA said those additional costs are not justified.

“Notwithstanding the fact that all these recommendations for the underground line are more than $30m more than the approved project per mile, not one party has presented any evidence, precedent, reason or justification for why it is reasonable for the commission to modify [its original decision] at the estimated costs to underground Segment 8A,” the DRA wrote.

The consumer group The Utility Reform Network (TURN), which is also a party to the proceedings, has gone on record as opposing undergrounding on the basis that the increased costs would be passed along to consumers who, in the main, would realize no additional benefit from undergrounding.

Chino Hills residents advocating for undergrounding have acknowledged that any added costs will not be borne only by the residents of Chino Hills but spread among a broad swath of the state’s ratepayers

The proposed decision is expected by June 11, the last day that would provide the required 30-day period that a proposed decision must be available for review before it can be considered for a decision. According to the schedule contained in the modified assigned commissioner’s ruling issued in November 2012, comments on the proposed decision will be due July 1 and reply comments due July 8. Providing that schedule is maintained, the CPUC will then be able to consider the proposed decision publicly at its July 11 meeting at CPUC headquarters in San Francisco.

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).