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ALJ/SRT/avs Mailed 3/20/2007
Decision 07-03-043 March 15, 2007
BEFORE THE PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Application of PACIFICORP (U 901 E), an Oregon Company, for Permit to Construct the Line 75 115kV Conversion Project Pursuant to General Order 131-D.
(See Appendix 2 for a list of Appearances.)
INTERIM OPINION REQUIRING
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT
This decision requires that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be prepared to evaluate the various routes being recommended for the southern portion of a proposed 115 kilovolt (kV) electric transmission line between the cities of Yreka and Weed in Northern California. The Final Mitigated Negative Declaration (FMND) we certified in Decision (D.) 06-10-047, while good as far as it went, did not evaluate routes that differ from that proposed by PacifiCorp, the applicant here.
The October 2006 hearings and post-hearing briefs revealed serious concerns with the route PacifiCorp proposes. That route would establish a new transmission corridor essentially in the backyards of homeowners whose properties surround a scenic, spring-filled valley in the shadow of Mt. Shasta. Those homeowners ask the Commission to consider an alternative route that follows the route PacifiCorp's transmission lines already follow.
It has never been entirely clear why PacifiCorp prefers a new route through scenic open pastures to a route along an existing transmission corridor, especially given vehement homeowner opposition to establishing a new corridor through their property. The length and cost differences between the routes are minimal; indeed, the entire area of dispute is little more than a mile long. Had PacifiCorp chosen a route without the controversy presented here, we would not be in the situation in which we now find ourselves.
The key concern PacifiCorp raises is that one of the alternative routes the homeowners propose would require a 100-foot rather than a 50-foot right-of-way along the existing transmission corridor. However, there is at least one alternative transmission configuration along the existing right-of-way that would not require widening the right-of-way. Without a full evaluation of the routing alternatives, we would do the community of Weed - and the natural areas surrounding it - a disservice. We need an EIR to fully understand the options available.
PacifiCorp claims a it needs a decision now, asserting it faces curtailments in the Weed area if it does not have an immediate decision so that it can complete construction by June 2007. However, much of the alleged need to rush is entirely due to PacifiCorp's own conduct. It did not file this application until the end of 2005, despite the fact that it claims outages on the lines at issue since at least 2003. It signed a firm transmission contract with a large transmission customer long before it had sought to or received permission from this Commission to upgrade the lines. It is that contract that is creating the line overloading; the local load on the line is just a third of its capacity.
Further, perhaps because this is the first application for a transmission line PacifiCorp has pursued in California, it has been slow in providing the kind of information necessary for environmental analysis of the route options, as detailed in the hearing record.1
Finally, the Commission has already taken extraordinary steps, under very expedited circumstances, to accommodate PacifiCorp's desire to upgrade its lines. In October 2006, immediately upon completion of a Final Mitigated Negative Declaration, we authorized PacifiCorp to construct the 17 of 18.6 miles of the line not in dispute. We understand that despite this extraordinary step and PacifiCorp's professed need for haste, PacifiCorp has constructed only 1/3 to 1/2 of the approved line, and is experiencing problems acquiring right-of-way even on the undisputed portion.2 Given the protestant homeowners' unwillingness to voluntarily grant PacifiCorp rights-of-way in the disputed area, we seriously question whether PacifiCorp can complete the line by June 2007, the date it asserts the upgrade must be finished.
In view of all of the foregoing circumstances, we cannot allow the final 1.6 miles of the line to be built without environmental analysis of alternative routes. It may have been better to prepare an EIR last fall, instead of a Mitigated Negative Declaration. Had we done that, of course, PacifiCorp would not have had the opportunity to build the lion's share of the line - 17 of 18.6 miles - until the EIR was complete. Instead, we chose to allow PacifiCorp the maximum building time available subject to a very important condition: that nothing we did in approving the first 17 miles would predetermine the outcome of the disputed portion now before us. We therefore order preparation of an EIR analyzing available alternative routes at the earliest possible time.
1 See Hearing Exhibit 314 (Letter from Energy Division's Ken Lewis to PacifiCorp detailing delays).
2 In comments to the proposed decision, PacifiCorp states it has constructed about 90% of the approved line.