12 July 2013

Towers of Terror: A Tempered Triumph?

Earlier today, the California Public Utilities Commission by a split 3-2 margin approved commission president Michael Peevey's "alternate decision" ordering Southern California Edison to remove the existing 198-foot tall "towers of terror" from Section 8 of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project and reroute the lines underground for 3 1/2 miles through primarily residential areas of Chino Hills. 

This order reverses a 2009 affirmative ruling by the commission allowing SCE to construct the towers and the company made significant headway before a halt was ordered pending the appeal and review by the commission.  About a month ago, Peevey's "alternate decision" was countered by a non-binding ruling by the commission's administrative law judge Jean Vieth which determined that Edison should not have to rework the segment underground because it was an undue burden on the company.

This was an impressive, hard-fought victory to the City of Chino Hills and, especially, the grass-roots organization Hope for the Hills, which had a significant contingent of members present at today's hearing.  Their achievement is notable and they are to be congratulated for their successful strategy.

Obviously, there will be some significant impacts with the underground work: mainly in the establishment of two large vaults at the western and eastern end of the 3 1/2 mile work area and the tunneling under major thoroughfares, principally Chino Hills Parkway and Pipeline Avenue.  Future maintenance might well be more difficult and costly with below-ground components as opposed to what would have been above the surface.

But, for those living next to or quite near the segment, the extra effort and expense will, naturally, be worth it.  As for everyone else, whether in Chino Hills or in Edison's broad service areas, the matter is somewhat different.  Some will argue that spreading the cost of conducting the underground work among all of Edison's ratepayers benefits a few at the expense of the many.  Proponents of the underground work will respond that the cost, per household, is small when calculated over the course of years.

What seems obvious to this observer is that the split vote, far removed from unanimity, reflects the fact that the battle over the Towers of Terror was not fundamentally about right versus wrong.  It was not really about the indisputability of EMF exposure risks or the likelihood of a catastrophic failure of a tower or several towers, or the assurance of billions and billions of declining property values should the project have been allowed to continue. 

Rather, this was, it seems, a decision reflective of the power of political persuasion.  In this sense, Hope for the Hills and the City of Chino Hills, aided by others, mounted an astute and skillful campaign.  There was no way really to know whether those behemoths represented anything more than a visual and, perhaps, auditory nuisance.  But, it doesn't matter now, although the matter is hardly finished.  The work to bury the lines and the years that follow will be interesting to observe to see whether the reversal turned out to be the total triumph the victors now savor or will be tempered by other sets of realities that might arise.

For now, Hope for the Hills, the City and their allies have much to celebrate.

Here are some links to sources on today's decision:

KNBC-TV news:  here
Pasadena Star-Newshere
Inland News Todayhere


CanyonNative said...

I want to commend you for the balanced way you report news about Chino Hills and Carbon Canyon in your blog. Things are rarely all black or all white. I definitely would not choose to have those enormous towers overlooking my back yard, but issues of cost, maintenance, and spreading the extra cost over the general ratepayers' bills are not insubstantial issues.

The really important idea that citizens should take away from this prolonged battle is that people can unite when they feel strongly about a problem. They can make their voices heard. No one should say, "There's no point in trying, it's already decided."

Please continue to write as a voice of reason in a not so reasonable world.

prs said...

Hello CanyonNative, balance is a goal here as it should be in just about anything else! And, it is wholeheartedly agreed that community activism is essential. Thanks for your comments and support.