Edison Tehachapi Transmission Project Advances

By Published On: December 18, 2009

Southern California Edison won approval from the California Public Utilities Commission December 17 to complete construction of a major transmission line capable of tapping up to 4,500 MW of wind energy in the Tehachapi Mountains. In a separate action, the commission bumped rates for Pacific Gas & Electric power customers by about 2 percent in the coming year. The $1.8 billion transmission project--portions of which Edison already has built under previous CPUC approval--is set to run 173 miles from the windy, mountainous region in Kern County into the heart of the sprawling Los Angeles metropolitan region ending in Mira Loma in Riverside County. Edison said it should be fully operational by 2014. “The Tehachapi transmission line is necessary to meet California’s 20 percent renewable portfolio standard, and will go a long way toward meeting the 33 percent requirement,” said commissioner Dian Grueneich introducing the decision to regulators. In approving the line, the commission turned down a proposal by the city of Chino Hills to change the route on grounds it would delay construction and stymie the state’s efforts to cut greenhouse gases and boost renewable energy. “I was very sympathetic to Chino Hills,” said CPUC president Michael Peevey. However, he said the commission could not have altered the route in a reasonable period of time. Chino Hills proposed that a segment of the line slated to run through its jurisdiction be rerouted through the nearby Chino Hills State Park and a contaminated property that Aerojet once used to test munitions. However, commissioner Rachel Chong noted that obtaining clearance from the park and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control would have taken too long. Edison heralded approval of the line. “This important CPUC decision will enable [Edison] to tap into additional supplies of clean wind energy to help improve the environment and reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy,” said Les Starck, Edison vice president of local public affairs. He added that the line will improve reliability in the sometimes transmission constrained Southern California region. Seventy percent of the project will run along existing transmission line rights of way, minimizing its environmental impacts, Grueneich noted. The state’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative ranked the Tehachapi line as one of the most cost-effective and least environmentally damaging transmission projects proposed in California. Yet, the CPUC did approve environmental mitigation measures, including a requirement that Edison remove a de-energized power line that runs through the state park. The company promised to take it down more than twenty years ago, but never has done so, noted Peevey. Regulators also capped contingency costs for the project at 15 percent, instead of the 32 percent level Edison requested. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates sought the lower cap. “DRA applauds the CPUC for its dedication to providing access to more renewable energy resources for California while controlling costs for ratepayers,” said Dana Appling, division director. Approval culminated a three-year siting effort, noted Grueneich, in which the commission approved five transmission lines that together are worth $4.5 billion and are to run 500 miles and carry 9,000 MW of new power, much of it renewable. In other action, the CPUC approved a $313 million rate increase for PG&E in the coming year to help the utility “true-up” its Energy Recovery Bonds Balancing Account. The commission estimates it will increase the annual power bill for the average customer about 2 percent.

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