15 November 2011

Towers of Terror Two: Temporarily Thwarted

From the folks at Hope for the Hills comes these excerpts of a California Public Utilities Commission "Assigned Commissioner's Ruling," handed down just a few days back, on the 10th,  regarding Segment 8 of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project through Chino Hills in response to opposition by the City of Chino Hills and stakeholders, such as Hope for the Hills. 


Once the new transmission towers were placed in Chino Hills, The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made recommendations to SCE that SCE modify portions of Segment 8, by installing marker balls on certain transmission line spans, installing lighting on certain transmission structures and making certain engineering refinements for Segment 8. In light of these FAA recommendations, on October 17, 2011, SCE filed a Petition for Modification (PFM) of the TRTP decision, D.09-12-044, seeking modification of the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and ordering paragraphs to account for the proposed FAA recommended changes.
Once the new transmission structures were put in place through the residential neighborhood in Chino Hills, the City found them to have a “visual, economic and societal impact . . . far more significant than what the City or the Commission envisioned at the time the CPCN was issued.”1 On October 28, 2011, the City filed a PFM to reopen the record with regard to Segment 8 of the TRTP. In light of the recent events and filings that affect Segment 8 of the TRTP, I direct SCE to prepare testimony on alternatives or solutions to the current approved route for the transmission line. SCE’s testimony should include the feasibility, cost, and timing for each alternative.
1. Alternative 4CM [City’s preferred route through the state park]
2. Alternate 5 [Partial undergrounding]
3. Other alternate routes through the City and/or State Park
4. Utilizing the existing right-of-way with shorter/more frequent towers
5. Mitigation for impact of TRTP line

Many of these alternatives were researched and developed as part of the initial application proceeding. Any alternative reviewed then, that could be considered a viable alternative today, should be presented with refreshed data. In addition, since parties have not yet responded to the recently filed PFMs, my directives here today are not intended to prejudge the PFMs, to be exhaustive, or to foreclose alternatives not yet considered. If parties suggest additional alternate routes or solutions, those may also be considered by the Commission. However, the information and data already gathered was quite extensive, so reviewing known alternatives with up-dated cost, viability, and timing data should prove sufficient.

Southern California Edison has been given until 10 January to provide testimony including the called-for "supporting data" for the alternatives listed above, as well as any potential new ones (though these are clearly not suggestive given the last sentence shown here.)

This is a strange turn of events, if for no other reason that the PUC had every opportunity to learn of the potential impacts of Segment 8 through Chino Hills (or any other impacts on the other segments of the project.) at any time between the initial filing by SCE in late June 2007 until the PUC's approval at the end of December 2009.  The 150-foot right-of-way owned by the utility and the homes impacted by the project were all there then.  Yet, the burgeoning opposition developing within Chino Hills clearly had a major political impact on the Commission (or, at least, its "assigned commissioner," Michael Peevey) and provoked this seemingly contradictory ruling.

Naturally, the City, Hope for the Hills and other opponents are thrilled by the latest news.  The question now becomes: which alternatives will SCE propose and what will be approved by the PUC?  Alternative 4--placing the lines through Chino Hills State Park (which would still have some residential housing impact, though much less than the current route) was vigorously opposed by the State Parks department and environmental groups--for understandable reasons, even as it was championed by the City.  Alternative 5, involving partial underground construction (is undergrounding a real verb?), was opposed by Edison as prohibitive from a cost and feasibility standpoint, though this alternative has gained steam among some project opponents, evidently.  Item 3 seems vague and conflicting with the above-listed alternatives.  Item 4, involving the idea of using the existing right-of-way but replacing the mammoth towers just now installed with shorter ones more closely placed, seems outright impossible for SCE to support.

Which leads to item 5:  mitigation.  This has become a common method for approving controversial projects of all types--finding a way to compensate for the impacts generated by said projects.  It would be interesting to see what SCE proposes on this, while knowing that, in all likelihood, opponents are going to reject any and all such mitigation.  Unless there is no choice, meaning that the PUC believes that mitigation is a reasonable middle ground for compromise and rules accordingly.

So, that's where matters lie for the time being and the events of 10 January will, of course, be interesting to ponder as SCE submits its testimony and supporting data to the PUC.  For now, the installed towers will remain until, someday, a new ruling is rendered.

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