Public Utilities Commission Approves Chino Hills Undergrounding

(July 12) The California Public Utilities Commission yesterday voted narrowly in favor of requiring Southern California Edison to underground high-voltage power lines for the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project for 3.5 miles of the five miles they will run through Chino Hills.
The vote of three of the boards five commissioners – Michael Peevey, Mark  Ferron and Catherine Sandoval – effectively undid a four-year old vote of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that gave Edison go-ahead to string 500 kilovolt cables from 197-foot high towers running through the heart of upscale Chino Hills. Peevey, Ferron and Sandoval’s votes represented the bare minimum needed to overcome the votes of their fellow commissioners Michel Florio and Carla Peterman, who voted against deviating from the commission’s 2009 decision. The vote also overcame a tentative ruling by Administrative Law Judge Jean Vieth which denied the appeal lodged by the city of Chino Hills and the grassroots group Hope For The Hills of the commission’s 2009 permit allowing Southern California Edison to erect the towers.
After the California Public Utilities Commission granted  Southern California Edison that permit four years ago, the Chino Hills City Council authorized what has to date resulted in the expenditure of $4.4 million to employ attorneys and make other efforts to contest the Public Utility Commission’s action, including filing suit against Southern California Edison, alleging the company had “overburdened” the 150-foot wide power line easements. That legal effort failed when West Valley Superior Court Judge Keith D. Davis ruled the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction regarding the route used by Edison, and the suit was thrown out. An appeal of Davis’s ruling was denied by the 4th District Court of Appeal. In a last-ditch gambit, Chino Hills directly appealed in 2011 to the Public Utilities Commission, which at that point had shed four of its five members who had voted to approve the line in 2009. By inviting first Peevey and then the other four members of the commission to Chino Hills to actually examine the towers, 18 of which had been erected, undergrounding advocates were able to convince Peevey, who prior to his appointment to the PUC had been a senior executive and president of Southern California Edison, to issue  in November 2011  a stay on further construction while undergrounding alternatives were considered.
At one point Edison asserted the cost of  undergrounding a double-circuit line to be $703 million to $1 billion. Edison claims it could erect the towers along the same span and string the cables between them for an estimated $172 million.
By January 2012, the PUC acceded to Southern California Edison’s insistence that it could not prepare economical plans to underground that portion of the Tehachapi Renewable Energy Project power line through a 1.5 mile section of the city known as Oak Tree Downs along the north side of Carbon Canyon at the west extension of Chino Hills, given the undulations of the area’s rolling hills and other peculiarities in the contour of the land. Constrained to determining the cost of undergrounding a single cable for the remaining 3.5 miles of the span through Chino Hills, Southern California Edison indicated the burial could be done for no less than $270 million, not considering the company’s cost of having erected the 18 towers and the future cost of bringing them down.
Four members of the Chino Hills City Council and city manager Mike Fleager were in San Francisco on Thursday to attend the PUC hearing. Approaching 200 members of the Chino Hills community were present at Chino Hills City Hall to witness a real-time broadcast of those proceedings. Prior to the hearing, Peevey had rendered a proposed decision calling for the 3.5 mile undergrounding of the line. In their pre-vote remarks at the hearing, Ferron, Sandoval, Florio and Peterman offered their analysis of the factors in their respective decisions. When Ferron indicated that he felt the towers presented an intolerable burden on the city of Chino Hills, the city council chambers, more than 300 miles distant

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