CPUC receives request for rehearing of Tehachapi decision

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is reviewing the sole application for rehearing of its July 11 decision ordering that a portion of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) be placed underground through the city of Chino Hills, Calif. (Docket A07-06-031).

The application for rehearing by the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) was submitted Aug. 15, six days after the CPUC’s previously stated deadline of Aug. 9. However, CEERT asserted in its filing, CPUC rules of practice and procedure state that the 30-day period to seek rehearing starts at the “date of issuance” of a CPUC order rather than the date the decision was made. The CPUC’s July 11 decision is marked with a date of issuance of July 16.

Calls seeking clarification from the CPUC were not returned by press time Sept. 3.

At the heart of its 76-page application for rehearing, CEERT asserts that the decision to authorize the undergrounding of Segment 8A of the TRTP “exceeds the commission’s powers or jurisdiction, fails to proceed in the manner required by law, is not supported by the findings or by substantial evidence in light of the whole record, is impermissibly vague, is an abuse of discretion, and violates due process.”

In its application, CEERT questioned the appropriateness of the July 11 decision and pointed to three areas that bore further scrutiny. Long after the original decision, CEERT asked whether a different set of commissioners could rely on limited and inappropriate procedural vehicles to overturn what had been a unanimous original decision approving an above-ground route as part of the “environmentally superior alternative.”

It also asked whether the commission could then approve a wholly new, first-of-its-kind undergrounding “alternative” for the 500-kV line, which had never been considered or advocated at the time of or even long after issuance of the original decision, “at a cost 50 times greater than the originally adopted, ‘environmentally superior’ route and design, and, to do so, based on claimed ‘visual impacts’ of 220 residents in a single community that had already been considered in the original decision.”

CEERT’s application for rehearing also asserted that the commission’s decision changed applicable law and policy for both retroactive and prospective application without notice and by relying on personal communications and not record evidence. The resulting July 11 decision effectively ignored its “deep-[seated] errors and its far-reaching, adverse consequences and costly impacts for California energy policies and its economy,” the group said.

In its petition, CEERT said it understood and appreciated Chino Hills’ desire to avoid having overhead power lines traverse its territory, but added that the circumstance “is the very reason that the planning for new transmission lines … is subject to specific laws [that] ensure that these systems, which support electricity being reliably delivered to homes and businesses throughout the state, are completed, notwithstanding individual preferences.”

In the July 11 decision, therefore, “the commission did not fulfill its ‘core duty’ to reach a reasoned decision based on applicable law and fact, but instead adopted an order fraught with legal error that must be addressed and corrected expeditiously,” CEERT said.

In its application, the group also suggested that the application itself may have been a futile gesture because the July 11 ruling was made effective immediately, thus nullifying the possibility that an application for rehearing would result in a stay of that decision.

“[The decision] cannot be automatically stayed, and, even with the filing of this application for rehearing, will not excuse SCE from complying with its orders to dismantle the current overhead construction of Segment 8A and replace it with undergrounding pursuant to the underground (UG) 5 single-circuit design at 50 times the cost,” the group said.

“Further, given the Assigned Commissioner’s full support for [the July 11 decision],” the group said, “CEERT is under no illusion that a motion now to stay and reverse [that decision] on an expedited basis would end up anywhere except the bottom of an inbox.”