20 December 2012

Towers of Terror: TRTP Tottering/Teetering Towards Twenty-Thirteen

With the Chino Hills maternity "hotel" issue heating up in recent weeks, the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project controversy has gone from boiling to simmering and has gotten less attention.

Still, in the 7 December edition of the Champion, Marianne Napoles reported that Southern California Edison had issued a 100-plus page report, as required by the California Public Utilities Commission, concerning its projected costs for realigning the TRTP lines underground instead of strung along those massive 198-foot tall towers that are partially installed through portions of Chino Hills on a narrow easement owned by the utility.

SCE estimated the cost of its preferred underground route at a mind-blowing $620 million, juxtaposed with the $172 million expense of the above-ground route with the towers. Stating that there was no similar example of a "buried" system comparable to that of the TRTP, the company further offered that there was no realistic way to estimate the timeframe for the design, manufacturing, installation and test of the underground alternative.  In addition, the acquisition of property for such a line would entail additional time for either negotiations or condemnation of land necessary for the project alternative.  According to its "best case scenario," the first of two circuits could be completed by January 2016 and the second a year later. 

Though Edison, obviously, prefers to continue with the above-ground component with the towers, it came up with five potential underground routes with costs projected from just under a half-billion dollars to a little over $800 million.  In each case, the firm used a 50% contingency formula for unforseen costs, change orders and other possibilities.

To Chino Hills mayor Peter Rogers, the costs put forth in the report are "exorbitant" and do not reflect an average of costs in construction, but, rather, were simply the highest possible numbers.  Hope for the Hills president Bob Goodwin, meantime, accused SCE of overinflating costs to scare people from accepting the underground alternative.

Whatever the case, whether SCE is being reasonable or ridiculous in its cost estimates for the underground alternative, there will be a long wait until the CPUC makes its decision.  That is not expected until July, by which time it will be interesting to see how much momentum Hope for the Hills can reintroduce after the long lull and "competition" from the maternity "hotel" controversy. 

Its latest provocative banner in Carbon Canyon at the summit of the S-curve along Carbon Canyon Road warns motorists that they are entering SCE's EMF (electric and magnetic field) testing grounds, inferring that the project would contain unhealthful levels of EMF to those living near the towers.

The Environmental Protection Agency has this to say about the issue of EMF levels and power lines (click here), though, for those disposed to believe the EPA and governments generally cannot be trusted to provide truthful information about this issue (or, perhaps much else), this may not be satisfactory.  The Health Physics Society, a nearly 60-year old organization of professionals specializing in radiation safety issues, offers its views here.

On the other hand, those concerned about EMF could cite opposing views, such as this one from a company that makes products claimed to help reduce harmful exposure to EMF (click here to read more) or this one from EM Watch (see here.)  As with untold number of controversial issues, there is more than enough out there to advance one or more views that contradict one another.

Along Eucalpytus Avenue across from the Chino Hills Community Park, Hope for the Hills (click here for its Web site) has another banner that blames SCE for wildfires and other disasters and, as with the EMF issue, there could be plenty of material that absolves or admonishes the company for these problems, delives into the difference between accident and neglect, and so on.

Whether the CPUC, meanwhile, is reacting in a political way to the intense pressure put upon it by the effective propaganda and grass roots efforts of Hope for the Hills and the legal work initiated by the City of Chino Hills will be interesting to see come summer.

Will the Commission really force SCE to scrap tens of millions of dollars of completed work and go to the underground option which will, regardless of accusations of overinflation, will certainly drive the cost up by hundreds of millions of dollars? 

Or is it allowing the current "reexamination" process to lumber on for what will be a couple of years by the time it has made its decision in the hope that the scope of the underground project will be considered unacceptable or that either the activism spearheaded by Hope for the Hills will wane or that its effects will be watered down as time drags on?

As stated here before (and likely elsewhere), it is strange that the CPUC approved this project several years ago and then only realized that a review was necessary once Hope for the Hills launched its impressive drive, which, in turn, led the City of Chino Hills to authorize millions of dollars to mount legal challenges.

The events of 11 July when the Commission is slated to issue its ruling will, no matter the result, be a watershed day in the history of Chino Hills--that much is certain, but little else is.

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