CHINO HILLS— California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey on July 2 ordered Southern California Edison and the city of Chino Hills to ready information and prepare testimony by February 28, 2013 pertaining to the options for undergrounding large scale transmission lines previously approved to be strung from massive towers through the heart of the city.
In issuing that order Peevey further instructed Chino Hills officials to determine how much of the added cost of undergrounding the lines the city and its taxpayers and electrical ratepayers are willing to bear.
The preparations Peevey has called for will set the table for a later public hearing on the issue of undergrounding the cables for the $2.1 billion Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, which is intended to generate at least 1,500 megawatts of power from new windmills to be erected within a 50-square mile wind field in Kern County and then convey that electricity to the Los Angeles basin.
In 2009 Southern California Edison obtained from the California Public Utility Commission over Chino Hills city officials’ objections permission to utilize the long-existing 3.8 mile-long power line right-of-way through Chino Hills from Tonner Canyon to the Riverside County line to erect 200-foot high towers to hold the line that is to traverse the upscale city in the far southwestern corner of San Bernardino County.
The city of Chino Hills sued Edison in 2010, claiming the company was on the verge of “overburdening” the power line easements, but West Valley Superior Court Judge Keith D. Davis ruled the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction regarding the route used by Edison. Chino Hills appealed Davis’s ruling to the 4th District Court of Appeal, but on September 12, 2011 the appeals court affirmed Davis’ finding that the California Public Utilities Commission and not the courts has exclusive jurisdiction over property rights issues between the city and Southern California Edison (SCE). That legal effort cost the city more than $2.3 million.
Even as the towers were being erected in Chino Hills last fall, the city made a last ditch appeal to Peevey, who visited the city and called for a delay while alternatives to the tower were sought and research on and discussions of alternative routing methods were carried out. Further work on the towers was suspended on November 11.
Monday’s ruling is an important milestone in the progress toward what Chino Hills officials and residents hope will be a change in the method of transmitting the electricity that will banish what they consider to be the unsightly towers from their landscape.
Peevey stopped short of saying that the towers, 12 of which have been erected within the city limits and five of which now stand in Carbon Canyon, will be dismantled, but indicated the PUC will conduct a forum by which alternatives to the towers will be thoroughly and comprehensively considered in time for Southern California Edison to have the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project up and running within three years.
“My objective is to ensure that the PUC moves promptly to develop a complete record with respect to the alternative of putting this line underground in Chino Hills, including the environmental impact of this type of construction. We need a better estimate of the cost based on a detailed engineering design,” Peevey said. “I applaud the efforts of SCE and the city of Chino Hills to explore this alternative through settlement negotiations over the past few months. Those talks have been very helpful in narrowing the scope of the controversy. By today’s ruling, I am directing both sides to sharpen their pencils to bring the underground solution into better focus.
“This will allow the PUC to then select, through its final decision in this case, the best solution for this important renewable energy transmission line,” Peevey continued. “We cannot lose sight of the fact that time is of the essence in getting this line completed and energized by 2015. We must enable the delivery of electric generation over the project on the schedule currently anticipated.”
In the ruling itself, Peevey said he wants all of the issues pertaining to the portion of the Tehachapi line through Chino Hills, referred to as Segment 8A, hashed out so the Public Utilities Commission “may reach a timely and lawful resolution that affirms a viable route for the project within that segment, releases the construction stay, and enables the delivery of electric generation over the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project on the schedule currently anticipated.”
Specifically, Peevey said he wanted Edison to prepare testimony related to preliminary engineering data it has acquired on the undergrounding of a single-circuit with three cables per phase in conduit in the existing Chino Hills right-of-way and the undergrounding of a single-circuit with two cables per phase in conduit in the existing Chino Hills right-of-way. He said he had excluded a third option for an undergrounded single-circuit with one cable per phase in conduit in the existing Chino Hills right-of-way “because that option would not supply enough margin under normal and emergency conditions.”
Many Chino Hills residents and officials hailed Peevey’s order, focusing most readily on the presumed likelihood of the elimination of the towers, which locals consider to be a visual blight that will negatively impact property values in the city. They generally looked beyond the implication in Peevey’s order that the city and its residents will need to bear a good portion of the financial burden of undergrounding the electrical circuits.
“Chino Hills should develop prepared testimony responsive to Southern California Edison’s prepared testimony on the three cables per phase and two cables per phase in an undergrounded, single-circuit cross-linked polyethylene conduit in the existing Chino Hills right-of-way,” Peevey wrote in his order. “In particular, Chino Hills should identify and clearly quantify any financial commitment it is prepared to make to minimize the total additional cost of an underground option as compared to the project initially approved for Segment 8A.”
According to Edison officials, the cost of digging a six-foot wide, 3.8-mile long trench the entire length of the existing easement through town and burying a double-circuit line will cost from $703 million to $1 billion.