13 September 2011

Towers of Terror in Chino Hills: The Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project

UPDATE, 10 November:  This is really old news, because the decision was made about mid-October by the California Public Utilities Commission to halt the Tehachapi project within Chino Hills on two grounds.  The first was to address concerns about the height of the towers and their proximity to Chino Airport so that the design can be amended to protect aircraft.  The other, however, is of greater significance because the ruling seeks to limit the activation of any part of the project that has towers less than 1000 feet from residences--a condition that involves a great many houses in Chino Hills.  This latter point has been cheered by local opponents of the project, who have either sought to have the lines moved to largely run through Chino Hills State Park or be rerouted underground.  It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the project in light of this recent decision, especially when the same CPUC approved the project and construction has been ongoing.

UPDATE, 16 September:  An e-mail was received yesterday from Assembly member Curt Hagman, in which he noted that, regarding the battle over the Tehachapi project, "this has been a long and frustrating process, but we will continue to fight for the safety and beauty of our community. We cannot give up!"  Hagman continued by writing, "I urge you to contact Governor Brown to express your concerns and outrage. Let your voice be heard!"  A sample letter was attached for concerned citizens to use in writing to the governor.

In the letter, it is claimed that, "a projected amount of up to $2.5 billion of home values will be lost in Chino Hills."  Reference was also made to recent statements by the National Transportation Safety Board criticizing the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency oveseeing the Tehachapi project from a regulatory standpoint, for its role in last year's horrific gas pipe line explosion at San Bruno.  The NTSB did assign the "probable cause" to Pacific Gas and Electric for not meeting existing standards during that line's 1956 construction and for poor maintenance since, while identifying the CPUC and the federal Department of Transportation as "contributing" to the disaster by exempting the line from later maintenance standards, such as pressure testing, that could have prevented the exploosion.  Moreover, a blanket statement about the CPUC having a "'buddy' relationship with utility companies" was added to the mix.

Also of note is the statement that, "the City of Chino Hills has spent $2.4 million to identify and design a viable alternative route that had the support of environmentalists. That route was through Chino Hills State Park, Alternate 4CM."  It should be noted that some of those funds have been expended in paying for litigation, as well as for the alternative design process.

The core message of the letter is, "what are we to do when a big monopolistic corporation and our own state government ignore our pleas, and disregard the safety of our families and property values for their own profit?"  It asks the governor to visit Chino Hills and "tour the devastation . . . forced upon our community" and concludes, "we desperately need your immediate help."

For more from Assembly member Hagman's Web site, see here.
ORIGINAL POST:  This has been a battle years in the making, but, because the issue was not (seemingly) specifically about Carbon Canyon, it has been kept off this blog.  In the last several days, however, a banner has appeared at the top of the S-curve along Carbon Canyon Road in Chino Hills.  Because drivers might see it and have no idea what it refers to (the banner not mentioning the actual dispute in question), however, here's an attempt to examine the matter, hopefully fairly.

After years of planning, Southern California Edison (SCE) proposed a project (see here) known as the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP), a massive endeavor that, as the company's Web site explains, "is the first major transmission project in California being constructed specifically to access multiple renewable generators in a remote renewable-rich resource area."  In plain English, this means that wind energy generators in the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area of Kern County are generating renewable energy that will be trasmitted some 175 miles on new lines strung between massive towers.  In spring 2007, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the first segments of the project and there are now a total of eleven of these segments stretching from eastern Kern County to San Bernardino County, specifically the Mira Loma substation in Ontario.  CPUC approval came in fall 2009 for the project affecting this area.  For more on the CPUC's views on the TRTP, see here.  There is also an undated (likely before the 2007 initial CPUC decision) two-page fact sheet here.

The impetus for this project comes from the state's call for having a fifth of California's energy come from renewable sources by 2010.  This mandate represents one of the most ambitious efforts in the United States regarding renewable energy development, but has, naturally, stirred controversy up and down the political spectrum.

Notably, the current project of segments 4-11 that is dealt with here affects three cities in San Bernardino County (Chino, Chino Hills and Ontario), three in Kern County, and about 25 in Los Angeles County.  Chino Hills, however, has been the focus of some of the most heated debates, protests, and challenges about and to the project, as the expansion brings 200-foot tall "monster" towers on 150 foot wide easements that come very close to homes in several tracts and subdivisions within the city.

Over the last few years, though, the City of Chino Hills has sought legal remedies for its efforts to halt the project (see here for the City's Web site page dedicated to the TRTP).  It has repeatedly lost cases in the courts, as it seeks to have alternate routes chosen for the TRTP, with a favored route redirecting the line through Chino Hills State Park to keep effects on residential communities to a minimum.  Even though construction has been continuing from west to east, with towers recently completed between Chino Hills Parkway and Peyton Drive as the project moves into Chino, the city continues to fight, to the tune of some $2.5 million.

Just today, city leaders, joined by concerned community members and state Assembly representative Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills) and Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) had a press conference/protest next to one of the "monster" towers. 

A few months ago, a citizens' group, formerly known as C.A.R.E. and now going by the moniker of "Hope for the Hills" (not to be confused with the Hill of Hope religious facility in Carbon Canyon at the Chino Hills/Brea border!), rededicated its grass-roots efforts to fight the TRTP.  Hence the banner appearing recently along Carbon Canyon Road.  Care for the Hills has a Web site (see here) that lays out its position.

This is an issue loaded with all kinds of views and opinions.  It is entirely understandable that those residents whose homes are adjacent and close to these "monster" towers are upset.  Some people believe there are health risks associated with electro-magnetic field levels.  Others worry about the potential for tower collapses and exposed wires.  There are people concerned about the noise that would be generated by the electrical current traveling along the lines.  Still more question the legitimacy of "green energy" and the benefits of wind power relative to conventional energy sources.  Some are unhappy with the jurisdiction given legislatively to the CPUC (a position so far upheld by state courts).  Others claim that there are overly cozy relations between the Commission and SCE.  Many feel that an alternative route through Chino Hills State Park is reasonable, while the state parks department and park supporters point out that the open space purpose of CHSP is completely incompatible with such an alternative (especally given the fact that the removal of old decomissioned Edison towers, mandated in the 1982 park creation agreement, only just finally happened after years of wrangling.)

Pragmatically, the project has been underway for a significant period and the towers through Chino Hills are gradually approaching completion, although the installation of power lines and the firing up of the transmission system is a way off. The 4th District of the state Court of Appeals has, again, affirmed the CPUC's jurisdiction in dealing with project and it seems highly unlikely that the state Supreme Court would rule any differently if the City of Chino Hills, which has already spent $2.5 million, were to continue to press its claim.  It just seems a virtual impossibility that anything can be done at this late stage to halt and redirect the project.

In a matter as contested as this one, laden with all kinds of politicized viewpoints, it will indeed be interesting to see how far the City and the Hope for the Hills organization carry their campaign and how the project will be viewed a few years and longer down the road.


Anonymous said...

I think the year was 1969, when they still had driver's education classes at the high schools. My dad told me to learn to drive a stick shift, since they had that option available. It was the instructor (brave man) and three students in a Volkswagon Beetle, leaving La Mirada High School to take on the twisting turns of Carbon Canyon. It was in the middle of nowhere then and one scary gear grinding adventure.

prs said...

Hello Anonymous, what a place to learn how to drive a stick shift. I imagine new drivers have found the experience to be an adventure since the road was put through way back in 1914! Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

The easement was there when the residents purchased their houses. I am sorry for the property owners, but they knew the easement was there. Chino Hills spending 2.4million to fight Edison in this day and age is beyond irresponsible.
It's Edison's easement, they can do what they want.

prs said...

Hello Anonymous of 15 September, thanks for the comment. Your statement about the easement ownership can also be coupled with the issue of a state-mandated renewable energy plan to which Edison is looking to adhere. I'm adding something tonight from an e-mail sent out by Assembly member Hagman concerning property values and other issues opponents are promoting. There's plenty to weigh in about, for sure!

canyon lover said...

Your blog is awesome. Drove in from the other side of the canyon for the first time in a few months, saw the sign, wondered about it, then had a feeling that if I checked the blog, you'd have an answer. Sure enough, I was right. Thanks again for your efforts. We appreciate it!

prs said...

Hi Canyon Lover, thanks for the comment and I'm glad that the post was helpful. I try to stay up with what's going on in the area.

JPalmer said...

To Anonymous: Yes, Edison owns the easement and has for 40 years. But building 200' 500KV transmission towers was not even a twinkle in Edison's eyes when homes were built. People thought the regular size distribution lines may be re-activated one day, but this project, so close to homes, is wrong. Saying they can do what they want with "their" easement is irresponsible. If you believe that, then Edison could just build a freeway or an airport on that narrow 150' wide bit of land. Endangering the lives and well-being and property values of thousands is irresponsible. Do your research before making judgements.