08 June 2013

Towers of Terror: Tottering Towards the Terminus

On Tuesday, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) administrative judge Jean Vieth will issue her decree on whether Southern California Edison's construction of massive 200-foot tall towers for the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) will be allowed to proceed through Chino Hills or if they will be forced to remove them and build an underground system for the project's lines.

In today's Champion edition, reporter Marianne Napoles wrote that Bob Goodwin, the president of Hope for the Hills, the grassroots organization that has mounted an impressive campaign to fight the construction of the towers, "said he does not expect a decision in favor of burying the lines."  This appears to be the first tacit admission by Goodwin and his organization that Vieth's pending ruling may not go their way.

At the same time, however, Goodwin cautions that there is still hope for Hope for the Hills and opponents of the towers, in that the CPUC will hold public hearings on the matter in San Francisco on 11 July (a Hope for the Hills banner near the Chino Hills Community Park calls for interested parties to join a bus trip the organization is planning for attendance at the hearings.)  Goodwin noted at least one other instance of where Judge Vieth's ruling was overturned by the CPUC at a subsequent hearing and he maintains that it is possible that a reversal could happen with the TRTP Section 8 issue, as well.

There is, however, other news that could very likely have a significant impact on the Section 8 question as well as every other matter relating to electricity supplies in California.  This is Edison's announcement just yesterday (see the Los Angeles Times article here) that it was closing the San Onofre nuclear power plant along the coast near Camp Pendleton.

For those who have been following that matter, the nearly four decade old plant had been shuttered for quite some time after radiation leaked from tubes into the atmosphere, despite the installation of replacement components to the new facility.  Faced with further delays by regulators, Edison decided, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars on continued operating costs at the facility and for replacement power to cover what San Onofre used to produce, to shutter the plant.

Because San Onofre, at its peak, generated 9% of all the state's electricity and supplied power to some 1.4 to 1.7 million houses, mainly in San Diego and Orange counties, there is going to be more incentive/pressure to find new sources for energy production in those areas serviced by SCE.  The timely completion of the TRTP would, presumably, be uppermost in the minds of the commissioners of the CPUC as they review the Section 8 matter and any other upcoming projects.

This is especially true because, obviously, the shuttering of San Onofre means that supplies of electricity will be tighter this summer and for the next couple of years in its main service areas.  Among those things proposed to help bolster supply are better efficiency in homes and businesses; more natural gas-fired plants; the use of wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources; and, lastly and more relevantly for the Section 8 dustup, "adding new long-distance transmission lines."

With the TRTP well along in construction and the Section 8 controversy being the only hindrance of any significance currently, it can be construed that the CPUC might be more easily disposed to ruling in Edison's favor on the Section 8 case.

For now, we'll see what Judge Vieth determines on Tuesday.

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