CHINO HILLS –The mediation effort between the city of Chino Hills and Southern California Edison to find alternatives to the 200-foot high power line towers Edison is building through this upscale community has broken down. As a result, it now appears that the city’s last hope hinges on the outcome of a petition for modification to the California Public Utilities Commission, the same panel that in December 2009 authorized the construction of the towers through the heart of Chino Hills.
The $2.1 billion Tehachapi Line, a portion of which is to traverse the city, is intended to convey electricity from what will be the nation’s largest wind farm in Kern County to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area.
The city of Chino Hills has expended more than $2 million to fund a legal effort to block the project and over the same two year period enlisted the help of local legislators in seeking to prevent Edison from intensifying its use of its existing utility corridor through town. Both the court and the legislative efforts failed to provide the city relief, as the judge hearing the case and the state legislature deferred to the utilities commission final authority on the matter. In October, even as Edison was erecting the towers, city officials made a desperate plea to the California Public Utility Commission, which now has three new members who did not participate in the December 2009 vote, to reconsider that approval. The city lobbied all of the commission’s members and induced the chairman of the commission, Michael Peevey, to visit Chino Hills and see first hand the towers and their overbearing proximity to the city’s residential neighborhoods.
On October 19, the commission ordered a temporary halt to the project over an issue unrelated to the city’s protests, i.e., the failure to include red lights on the towers to ensure their visibility to low-flying aircraft. The city followed up on October 31 with an application for a rehearing and motion for partial stay of the 2009 decision and in response, the commission extended the tower construction stay and directed Southern California Edison to produce by January 10 a feasibility study on an alternative route for the transmission line through or around Chino Hills. On January 10, Southern California Edison offered up four variant ways of bringing the electricity through Chino Hills by means other than the 200-foot high towers. Those methods were routing the lines through Chino Hills State Park, undergrounding 500 kilovolt lines through the city, utilizing a route that skirted the perimeter of the city, and using the existing right of way with shorter and more closely-spaced towers.
Also in January, administrative law judge Jean Vieth directed Southern California Edison to give serious consideration to a suggestion by Michael B. Day, the city’s legal counsel, that the utility company could use a single circuit 400 kV underground cable to transmit the electricity.
Vieth called upon the city of Chino Hills and Edison to initiate a mediation of the matter by early February. In sixteen total days of negotiations, the two sides were unable to come to terms over how Edison could meet its mandate of delivering the electricity through some alternative means and recoup its losses after having in good faith erected 12 of the 18 towers that were to span the city.
Edison officials are faced with the reality that even the least expensive alternative at this point will entail an added expense of no less than $8 million, given that two thirds of the towers intended for Chino Hills are already erected. The plan approved in 2009 by the California Public Utilities Commission is the least expensive method, at a cost of $166 million. The alternative of erecting shorter towers would boost that projection to at least $174 million and perhaps as much as $192 million. By skirting the city and going through the state park, the cost would escalate to at least $424 million and could go as high as $589 million. The undergrounding option would be the most expensive, running from $601 million to more than $1 billion, Southern California Edison officials maintain. Reportedly, when having Chino Hills pick up the difference in the cost was broached by Edison’s representatives, city officials balked, ultimately leading to a collapse in the mediation effort.
Consequently, the matter will now return for a determination by an administrative law judge. A prehearing conference for that process has been set for March 19.