SoCal Edison Won’t Underground Power Lines Through Oak Tree Downs

Southern California Edison has not prepared plans to underground that portion of the Tehachapi Renewable Energy Project power line  through the Oak Tree Downs area of Carbon Canyon at the  west extension of Chino Hills, according to an application on file with the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Over the city of Chino Hills’ protest, Southern California Edison obtained permission from the PUC in 2009 to proceed with the Tehachapi line to include 197-foot high towers to support high tension 500 kilowatt lines carrying electricity generated at what is to be the world’s largest wind farm in Kern County to the Los Angeles Basin. After further legal challenge by the city which ended in West Valley Superior Court Judge Keith Davis ruling the project could proceed, Edison erected 15 of the towers through Chino Hills. The PUC led by chairman Michael Peevey, however, in November 2011 ordered work on the towers to cease while alternatives to the above ground placement of the towers through Chino Hills were considered by Edison.
On December 18, 2012 Southern California Edison through its lawyer Laura Godfrey applied with the PUC for permission to proceed with that portion of the project that “would not be affected by the potential underground construction,” which is identified as the Oak Tree Downs area, where the master plan provides for  custom homes on large residential lots. That roughly 1.5-mile span into Carbon Canyon represents thirty percent of the five mile portion of the Tehachapi line through Chino Hills.
Previously, it was assumed that Southern California Edison was being compelled by the PUC to draw up an undergrounding alternative for the full five miles. The December 18 filing reveals that the undergrounding alternative, the precise details of which have yet to be fully made public, will run only 70 percent – 3.5 of the five miles –  of the way through the incorporated portion of Chino Hills. The line runs another eight-tenths of a mile through Chino Hills’ designated sphere of influence. Notably, Edison had given earlier cryptic reference to its intention to proceed with the erection of towers in Oak Tree Downs, such as when it placed before public officials calculations of undergrounding costs that pertained to just 3.5 miles.
The city of Chino Hills in response to Edison’s December 18 filing asked the PUC to delay the construction resumption through Oak Tree Downs until the entire issue with regard to the undergrounding of the lines through the city is resolved.
On January 8, CPUC Administrative Law Judge Jean Vieth turned back Edison’s request to allow the work in Oak Tree Downs to proceed immediately, directing the utility to confer with Chino Hills officials to clarify what efforts will be made to mitigate the impact of the towers. This gives Chino Hills officials and Oak Tree Downs residents an opportunity to importune the PUC for reconsideration.
Many Chino Hills homeowners are wary of potentially significant negative impacts the towers will have on property values in the city. That concern was shared by the Chino Hills City Council, which authorized the expenditure of over $2.3 million to employ attorneys and make other efforts to contest the Public Utility Commission’s action in permitting the towers to be erected. That effort included a suit against Southern California Edison alleging the company had “overburdened” the power line easements. That legal effort failed when Judge Davis ruled the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction regarding the route used by Edison.
Edison has long had a 150-foot-wide right-of-way for its power lines through upscale Chino Hills from Tonner Canyon to the Riverside County line. In 2011, Edison erected 15 of the towers within the heart of the city before Peevey imposed a moratorium on further erection activity in the city. On November 15, Peevey asked Edison to provide the commission by December 3 with a detailed report cataloging the costs and scope of the materials and service contracts associated with the undergrounding alternatives, along with Edison’s cost recovery proposals.
Edison, which has been tasked by Peevey to provide its assessment of undergrounding options  by February 28, 2013, previously calculated the cost of trenching out a six-foot wide and six-foot deep, 3.5-mile long swath through town and undergrounding a single line to be $300 million to $473 million, and undergrounding a double-circuit line to be $703 million to $1 billion. In early December, the company revised those figures to $486 million to $807 million. Edison maintains it could erect the towers along the same span and string the cables between them for an estimated $172 million.
Some of those opposed to the placement of the towers in Chino Hills have questioned the undergrounding cost figures, calling them inflated.
Of some moment in the still unfinished discussion about the Tehachapi line is who will bear the cost of the undergrounding of the lines through Chino Hills. Chino Hills councilman Ed Graham and the leader of the Hope For The Hills grassroots group opposing the towers, Bob Goodwin, have expressed the view that Southern California Edison should bear the cost of burying and insulating the cables. By passing that cost on to consumers statewide, individual ratepayers would see a yearly impact on their electricity bills of under $5, Goodwin said.  Edison and its  ratepayers elsewhere favor having the city of Chino Hills or its ratepayers defray the undergrounding cost.
Christopher Chow, a spokesperson for the California’s Division of  Ratepayer Advocates, which has its office in the PUC’s San Francisco office, told the Sentinel, “The people in Chino Hills want those lines buried rather than having those very high towers, which may impact their property values. They think Edison should bear the cost for having ignored them when the application was made. Then there are other ratepayers in the state who see that as Chino Hills’ problem and they do not want to pay for their problem.”
With regard to calls for the city of Chino Hills to pay for the undergrounding by issuing bonds which would then be debt serviced by the city’s property owners, Chow said, “That sounds like a trial balloon and we do not comment on trial balloons.”

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