27 November 2011

Towers of Terror Three: Tangled, Twisted, To Be Continued

A new piece in the Los Angeles Times (see here) has just been posted online (following an 18 November treatment in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, of which see here, summarizing the latest developments (as discussed here recently) on the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) project to run renewable energy power through lines strung on massive 198-foot tall towers through a portion of Chino Hills roughly along Eucalyptus Avenue on an east-west trajectory to Ontario.

Notably, the article, by Phil Willon, observes that the growing protest over the sequoia-sized [his well-chosen words] towers has been such that it has been "sending the simmering local opposition into a full boil and drawing more heat from politically attuned congressmen." 

Also of significance is the attention paid to the question of these towers being in a "fall zone" so that, outside of the 150-foot easement in which they've been placed, an earthquake could possibly send these behemoths crashing into surrounding neighborhoods.  As one Chino Hills resident, Cris Garcia, was quoted: "We live in an earthquake zone. If a disaster strikes, that thing could fall right through my house."  Some sources indicate that the fall distance is equal to the height of the tower, which, in this case, would place that distance almost fifty feet outside of the easement.

Naturally, officials with Southern California Edison claim that the towers are structurally sound and dismiss other concerns about the towers and their powerful lines creating a health hazard.

As to the California Public Utilities Commission, which approved the project in 2009, a quote was obtained from Michael Peevey, who gave a thumbs-up then, but issued the recent decision halting the project pending a 10 January deadline for Edison to submit a report looking at alternatives and then seeking to either defend their current approach or identify a feasible alternative.  Peevey told the Times that, "Everybody has an interest, and everyone's got an ax to grind.  It's a very tough job to balance all of this."  But, why did Peevey vote one way two years ago and now has seemingly moved in a different direction?

Meanwhile, yesterday's mail brought a flyer from Fullerton congressional representative Ed Royce announcing that he is hosting a "meet and greet" with him at the Summit Ranch community clubhouse next Sunday, 4 December at 1:00 p.m. 

On the reverse of the mailer is a copy of a 14 November press release from Royce's office announcing his opposition to the TRTP line through residential neighborhoods AND calling for a hearing in Congress "on the impact on neighborhood home values and the ability of homeowners and buyers to obtain loans."

The main reasons given for such a hearing before the Financial Services Committee are two-fold:  first, that power lines, even of half the voltage, "are not allowed within 900 feet of schools" and, second, that the Federal Housing Administration does not permit the residences of FHA-issued mortgage or refinance holders to be "in what FHA calls the Fall Zone below high voltage transmission lines."

On this last point, there is an apparent variation with what is found in the FHA's "Homeownership Center Reference Guide" and its "Hazards and Nuisances" section's description of "Overhead High Voltage Transmission Towers & Lines."  Specifically, this portion states that:

The appraiser must indicate whether the dwelling or related property improvements is located within the easement serving a high-voltage transmission line, radio/TV transmission tower, cell phone tower, microwave relay dish or tower, or satellite dish (radio, TV cable, etc).  If the dwelling or related property improvements is located within such an easement, the DE Underwriter must obtain a letter from the owner or operator of the tower indicating that the dwelling and its related property improvements are not located within the tower’s (engineered) fall distance in order to waive this requirement.

In other words, it would appear that the question of "fall distance" only applies if the structure is within the utility easement. 

As to the question of distance from schools, it doesn't appear clear what the proximity to schools has to do with the activities of the Financial Services Committee and the matter of home loans.  Interestingly, the California Department of Education has advisory guidelines that request a distance of at least 350 feet from schools for lines of 500-550 kilovolts, which is the capacity of the proposed line.

In any case, the Times article and, to a lesser degree, the Daily Bulletin piece, note the political nature of the involvement of representatives Royce and Miller, mainly because the two, now in separate congressional districts, will be contending against each other in next November's election in a new district, the 39th, created by voter-mandated redistricting that was recently completed in California. 

This seems to explain Miller's characteristically charged commentary in October castigating Democrats and "liberal elitists" for foisting green energy legislation a decade ago that led to the TRTP project being green-lighted (!) by the CPUC and leading to "hillsides scarred and vistas disrupted" [an interesting choice of words, indeed, from a home builder and developer]. 

Royce, meantime, used a more measured tone in his dissent, focusing on what may potentially fall within the purview of Congress and the federal government, with one exception, in which he likened the project as "equivalent to a government taking of private property," usually wording used to fight eminent domain.  Here, however, there is a matter of a private easement, albeit very close in a narrow easement, to private property in response to a government [state] mandated program.  It should also be pointed out that Royce opined, as many have done, that the route of the line should either be underground (which SCE has rejected as cost prohibitive) or through the "uninhabited Chino Hills State Park," though environmentalists and state park officials would likely call attention to the fact that the use of the term "uninhabited" by Royce would be equivalent to demeaning the park's value.

At all events, this involvement of our local representatives is all very interesting, given that these politicians, as Republicans, are usually given to calling for local control of local issues and in reducing the role of the federal government.  Yet, in this case . . .

So, it was not surprising to see that Royce's flyer was "Paid For By The Royce Campaign Committee" and that the 4 December event is advertised as a "meet and greet," a term usually reserved for campaign appearances, rather than say, a "town hall" or "community meeting."  Will we see a similar event soon from Rep. Miller?

And, regardless of the merits of the opposition, which are considerable, is the alliance of local opponents with soon-to-be battling federal representatives, when the TRTP project is one of state, not federal, jurisdiction, a question of the means justifying the ends, even if the ends are reasonable?

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