California regulator: SCE must file amended application for proposed series capacitor project

Southern California Edison (SCE) must file an amended application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) for its proposal to build a set of electrical facility elements that it refers to as the Eldorado-Lugo-Mohave Series Capacitor Project, according to a Jan. 9 ruling by California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker, the assigned commissioner to the matter.

As noted in the ruling, SCE filed an application for a project permit to construct (PTC) in order to build the project.

The Public Advocates Office (Cal Advocates) protested SCE’s application by asserting that under the commission’s general order (GO) 131-D, the proposed project requires an application for a CPCN rather than an application for a PTC.

Prior to conducting an effective prehearing (PHC) conference, it is necessary to determine the threshold issue as to whether GO 131-D entitles SCE to file an application for a PTC or whether SCE must file an application for a CPCN, Picker added.

It is ruled that due to the nature of the proposed project equipment, SCE improperly filed its application as a PTC, and must instead file an amended application seeking a CPCN in accordance with all applicable commission rules, Picker said.

Once SCE files an amended application for a CPCN, a PHC will be conducted, Picker noted.

An SCE spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment by TransmissionHub on Jan. 10.

According to the application, Picker said, the proposed project consists of these major components:

  • Build two new 500-kV mid-line series capacitors – i.e., the proposed Newberry Springs Series Capacitor and Ludlow Series Capacitor – as well as associated equipment
  • Relocate, replace, or modify existing transmission, subtransmission, and distribution facilities at about 12 locations along the Eldorado-Lugo, Eldorado-Mohave, and Lugo-Mohave 500-kV transmission lines to address 14 potential overhead clearance discrepancies
  • Perform minor grading at two discrepancy locations along the Lugo-Mohave 500-kV Transmission Line
  • Extend or reroute about two miles of overhead – and about 700 feet of underground – 12-kV distribution circuits to provide station light and power to the proposed Newberry Springs Series Capacitor and Ludlow Series Capacitor – the distribution poles are supporting the overhead telecommunication facilities on the same route
  • Install distribution facilities to provide station light and power to three proposed fiber optic repeater sites
  • Install about 235 miles of optical ground wire (OPGW) – 173 miles on the Lugo-Mohave 500-kV line; about 59 miles on the Eldorado-Mohave 500-kV line, including about three miles of underground telecommunications facilities in the vicinity of the Mohave substation
  • Modify the ground wire peak of existing suspension towers used as splice locations for the OPGW work; of those towers would also require minor modifications to the steel in the tower body
  • Install about two miles of overhead and about 500 feet of underground telecommunications facilities to connect the proposed Newberry Springs Series Capacitor and Ludlow Series Capacitor to SCE’s existing system as one communication path – the telecommunications facilities would share the same poles with overhead distribution
  • Install about two miles of underground telecommunications facilities to connect the proposed Newberry Springs Series Capacitor and Ludlow Series Capacitor to SCE’s existing system as a second communication path
  • Install underground telecommunications facilities from existing transmission structures to three fiber optic repeater sites – Barstow, Kelbaker, and Lanfair – within the Lugo-Mohave 500-kV line right of way (ROW)
  • Install about 1,000 feet of underground telecommunications facilities within the existing Lugo, Mohave, and Eldorado substations
  • Perform modifications within the existing Lugo substation on the existing series capacitors and install new terminating equipment; remove two existing tubular steel poles (TSPs) within the substation and install two new TSPs within the substation on the Eldorado and Mohave 500-kV lines
  • Perform modifications within the existing Eldorado substation on the existing series capacitors and upgrade the terminal equipment on the Lugo 500-kV line
  • Replace existing series capacitors on the Lugo 500-kV line and install new terminal equipment on the Eldorado and Lugo 500-kV lines at the existing Mohave substation

SCE estimated the project would cost $225m.

Picker also noted that GO 131-D states that if work on a power line and its adjunct facilities operates at a voltage of between 50 kV and 200 kV, then only a PTC is required. GO 131-D also states that if the power line and its adjunct facilities operate at a voltage of 200 kV or greater, then a CPCN is required for the project work, unless the work falls into one of the category of items identified as an exception to the CPCN requirement. The one caveat to that “above v. below 200 kV” rule is for a “new or upgraded substation with a high side voltage exceeding 50 kV,” Picker added.

Here, it is clear that the power line at issue is 500 kV, and so on its face, the project would require a CPCN, unless the proposed work all falls under one or another of the categorical exceptions, Picker said.

SCE essentially argues that employing reasonable construction of GO 131-D’s terms and analyzing the project work, the project work is essentially that type of work identified in the categorical exceptions, or sufficiently similar so as to be considered within the category of exceptions, and thus enabling an application for a PTC.

Picker added that SCE contends that the project work only requires a PTC because:

  • Its equipment is arguably “physically similar” to that identified in the GO 131-D as requiring only a PTC. SCE argued that series capacitors are similar to substations, which would require only a PTC
  • The work as whole is not “major” and therefore falls under the GO 131-D CPCN categorical exceptions list
  • A prior commission decision acted to demonstrate that the commission has determined that certain individual project components are not considered major

Cal Advocates disputes that the project work should be considered as analogizable to one or another of the categorical exceptions, and therefore contends the project should require an application for a CPCN.

Picker added that Cal Advocates contends that a CPCN is required because:

  • The project components are of a type that necessitate a CPCN. Cal Advocates argues that the series capacitors are not functionally equivalent to substations
  • The entirety of the project is not similar to the scope of a project that only requires a CPCN
  • The commission has previously reviewed other projects of a similar nature, and Cal Advocates found what it considers to be a more analogous project that was deemed to require a CPCN

Picker said that based upon the voltage and function of the series capacitors, it is determined that the PTC application process is unavailable for the project’s series capacitors and their related equipment. Due to its voltage, Picker said, that equipment falls under the express primary categorization found in GO 131-D Section III Subsection A, which notes, in part, that no electric public utility is to begin construction in California of any major electric transmission line facilities that are designed for immediate or eventual operation at 200 kV or more without the commission’s having first found that said facilities are required by the public convenience and necessity.

The equipment’s function is more analogous to the construction of a new segment of transmission line, which would require a CPCN due to its 500-kV voltage, Picker said.

Of the tower-related work, Picker said that it would appear that the proposal is, in mean part, to raise nine existing 80-foot to 250-foot towers by an average of 18.5 feet and in so doing, change their height 7-23%. Given that the project work is seen as forming a single whole, and because the series capacitor and its related work will require compliance with GO 131-D Section III Subsection A, it is no longer at issue whether that tower work would suffice as “minor” under the exceptions to that subsection, Picker said.

Similarly, of the groundwire and telecommunications-related work, Picker said the OPGW work is part and parcel of the series capacitor work, and that all of the work – including the OPGW and tower work – must be made a part of the series capacitor CPCN application.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3067 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.