06 July 2012

TRTP Towers of Terror Tilting Towards Twenty Thirteen

Tomorrow's edition of the Chino Hills Champion has a feature article concerning an order by the chairperson of the California Public Utilities Commission requiring Southern California Edison to provide a detailed preliminary engineering plan for proposed underground alignment of the notorious Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP), which work through the segment passing through Chino Hills was halted as enormous 198-foot tall towers were being installed on narrow 40-foot rights-of-way.

A spirited grassroots effort spearheaded by the community-based organization, Hope for the Hills, along with legal efforts put forth by the City of Chino Hills led the CPUC to reconsider the project that agency approved a few years ago.  Although Edison offered cost estimates for a couple of options to reroute the project underground and then CPUC chairperson Michael Peevey ordered Edison and the city to assume private negotiations, the new order takes the project to another level of planning specificity that Edison certainly did not want to pursue, though the decision does not exactly satisfy Hope for the Hills, while the city took a cautious approach in addressing the latest result.  The two options to be explored are a single circuit with two lines and the individual circuit with three lines.

Further, Marianne Napoles' article indicates that an option to route the TRTP lines through Chino Hills State Park has no chance of being seriously considered, because Peevey observed that none of the parties involved were actively pursuing that alternative any longer.

A major reason why community activists were less than enthused about Peevey's order was that the detailed engineering plans are not due until the end of February 2013.  Hope for the Hills chairperson Bob Goodwin stated that "it appears that Edison . . . has not engaged in a good faith negotiation because there is no good reason why this shouldn't be concluded at this time."  Nor, however, were good reasons offered as to why the issue should have been ended by now, either. 

Interestingly, Goodwin went on to offer that residents in areas adjacent or near the existing towers were not able to make the decision to stay in their houses, sell before completion of the towers if they remain, or "walk away" from their homes because a decision on the situation is at least a year away.  Given the continuing slump in the housing market, it seems that many people wouldn't want to sell anyway, particularly if they bought their houses after, say, 2003 or 2004 and that "walking away" would be far more likely when people are already financially underwater on their residences regardless of the status of the towers.  Given the economic situation, one wonders if waiting another year would really make that much of a difference.

Actually, Hope for the Hills should take some comfort in the fact that their extraordinary (this is meant in as neutral a sense as possible; namely, that the level of organization and execution is impressive for a grassroots community movement like this) efforts, as well as those exerted by the city (to the tune of $3 million) have pushed the CPUC to this newest level of reconsideration.  Undoubtedly, SCE wants to build this project at the lowest possible cost to maximize its profit, but it was the CPUC which approved the work and then looked slightly more than credible when it backtracked after the considerable pressure applied to its by the city and Hope for the Hills began to snowball.

At the same time, the CPUC could be engaging in deferred due diligence by making SCE "jump through hoops" with "secret negotiations" with the city (a strange concept for something so public, but all-too-often utilized by governments these days) and then requiring a significant preliminary engineering plan to better quantify what will still, in any case, be an enormously expensive endeavor in rerouting the TRTP underground through a city as hilly as its name indicates.

Simply put, it seems highly unlikely that the CPUC will actually order SCE to absorb those extraordinary costs all by its lonesome, given that chairperson Peevey has also required the city to "quantify any financial commitment it is willing to make to lessen the costs of burying the lines."  What amount this would or could be will be interesting to see.

Meantime, after the end of February deadline for submission of the preliminary studies, the city has until 25 March to reply.  Any other interested parties, including environmental groups, renewable energy firms, or others, have until tax day, 15 April, to offer their views.  Two weeks beyond that, Edison can provide its rebuttal to any and all of the above with an evidentiary hearing scheduled at the CPUC offices in San Francisco on 20 May.  After that, briefs are filed and then a final decision to  be made.

At the top of the S-curve in Carbon Canyon, a Hope for the Hills banner implores passers-by to do what they can do to support their position on the project.  Well, for a good nine months or so, there is very little that can be done, at least tangibly, though the group can continue promoting awareness and keeping their views on the front burner as they have done consistently.  On the other hand, a banner elsewhere in the city, begs readers to "Save Our Children," and maybe Hope for the Hills could do more to amplify (pardon the pun) on what exactly that means relative to the TRTP.

Finally, if initial Edison estimates of underground options of $375-475 million are even reasonably close to the preliminary study findings, it will be curious to see what Chino Hills could bring to the table and whether or not the CPUC would mandate the options at the great cost that is still likely to be involved and what specific responses Hope for the Hills would have as to how a rerouting of such major expense is feasible, for everyone involved.

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