SCE: Tehachapi project is first of its kind; will require ‘extraordinary cooperation’

Southern California Edison (SCE), developer of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP), on Oct. 9 said the “first-of-its-kind project in the United States … will require extraordinary cooperation between SCE, city officials and residents” to manage the known challenges of construction as well as unknown challenges that may arise. (Docket No. A07-06-031).

Following a town hall meeting for residents of the cities of Chino Hills and Chino, Calif., which the utility held at Chino Hills City Hall Oct. 9, the company posted on its website a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and its responses regarding the undergrounding Segment 8A, the portion of the project that will pass through Chino Hills. The FAQs addressed issues ranging from property rights to a timetable for the project.

Although the utility has already begun a limited list of construction and related tasks related to the project, including demolition of the existing structures, ordering long lead time materials and real property acquisitions, the utility stated that it expects to begin activities in preparation for undergrounding the section through Chino Hills in early 2014.

During the regulatory proceedings leading up to the California Public Utility Commission’s (CPUC) July 11 decision that the line should be placed underground, SCE repeatedly warned that a decision directing it to build the line underground could jeopardize the planned in-service date of December 2015. In its FAQs, the utility cited possible completion in 2016 but said that date is subject to revision, and that it is evaluating its construction schedule “in light of continued regulatory proceedings at the California Public Utilities Commission.”

Those proceedings include a pending petition for modification, filed Sept. 9 by SCE, in which it asked the CPUC for permission to install voltage control equipment because the highest rated cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) cable available that can be used in the 500-kV application is rated at 550 kV. In addition, SCE noted that undergrounding the transmission line will cause an increase in the transmission line charging current that could, in some cases, cause the voltage on the system to exceed its 550-kV rating.

The utility stated that studying the possibility of changing the basic insulation level (BIL) rating for the line, as directed by the CPUC in its July order would significantly delay the in-service date of the TRTP, perhaps as late as 2019.

There is no deadline by which the CPUC must act on the petition, a spokesperson for the CPUC told TransmissionHub Oct. 11.

Although SCE has held easements for its right-of-way (ROW) through residential areas of Chino Hills and the city of Chino since the 1940s, the utility indicated that easements will not be sufficient to accommodate the underground alignment.

“For the original overhead configuration, the current SCE easements provided all necessary property rights for the project,” Veronica Gutierrez, SCE’s vice president for local public affairs, said in the FAQs. “However, since being ordered by the utilities commission in July to underground this project, SCE has determined that it needs to own all of the property in the right-of-way in order to build the underground system safely and efficiently.”

In real estate terms, SCE needs to acquire the “fee interest” in the right-of-way, and negotiations are currently underway with local property owners, SCE said.

The project may also put an end to the community’s access to certain recreational facilities, including trails and other areas within the utility’s ROW. Because the project will be the first in the U.S. to locate a 500-kV line underground, unknowns must still be evaluated.

“Given that electricity transmission at this high-voltage level is typically not constructed underground, safety considerations may force us to restrict future access,” Gutierrez said. Those areas, which are currently open to the public, will definitely be off-limits while construction is underway, “to enhance the safety of the public and project personnel.”

The FAQs also include details primarily of interest to those residents who will be affected by the project, including the hours and days of the week when construction is expected to take place, road closures that will occur, and contact information for those who have additional questions.

When completed, the project will be able to deliver up to 4,500 megawatts of largely renewable energy to Southern California, enough electricity to power three million homes, the utility said.

SCE has called the 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).