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Calif. PUC law judge recommends approval of West of Devers transmission project


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Calif. PUC law judge recommends approval of West of Devers transmission project

A Californiaadministrative law judge on April 11 issued a proposed decision that shouldbe permitted to build the West of Devers Upgrade Project to increase the power transfercapability of the West of Devers facilities from about 1,600 MW to 4,800 MW.

In 2013,the Edison Internationalsubsidiary obtained a rights-of-way agreement with the Morongo Band of Mission Indiansthat permits SoCalEd's West of Devers Upgrade Project to cross the tribal nation'sreservation, law judge Hallie Yacknin said in her proposed decision. The earliest the California PublicUtilities Commission could act on Yacknin's recommendation is May 12.

The projectis proposed to run from the Devers substation near Desert Hot Springs, Calif., westacross Riverside County, Calif., near Interstate 10, and split into two branchesthat terminate in Colton, Calif., and San Bernardino, Calif. The projectincludes removal and upgrade of 139 miles of existing 220-kV transmission lines,and upgrades of seven substations, including two smaller substations to accommodate66-kV subtransmission line relocations.

The projectis needed to deliver energy to the Los Angeles area from new renewable energy generatingfacilities in eastern Riverside County. Yacknin concluded that providinginfrastructure to help achieve California's new 50% renewable portfolio standardoutweighs the project's unavoidable adverse environmental impacts on air quality,noise, scenery and cultural resources.

SoCalEdmay not proceed with the proposed project absent the commission's determinationthat the project complies with the California Environmental Quality Act.

The Morongonation may terminate its agreement with SoCalEd for the project to cross the tribalreservation if the PUC and FERC fail to approve a proposed transaction between theutility and the Morongo nation's transmission company. Morongo Transmission LLChas an option to invest up to $400 million at the time of commercial operation ofthe project in exchange for 30-year lease rights, according to the law judge's proposeddecision. The project has been proposed to be in operation by 2020,according to the PUC's website for the environmental review of the West of DeversUpgrade.

The and solar developersNextEra Energy Inc. subsidiaryNextEra Energy Resources LLC,Palen Solar Holdings LLCand EDF Group subsidiaryEDF Renewable Energy havesupported SoCalEd's statements of need for the project.

However,the PUC's Office of Ratepayer Advocates argued that the $878 million to $1.01 billionproject is not needed. The ratepayer office contended that interim upgrades arealready in place, so the West of Devers transmission system can accommodate 850MW of full capacity delivery, which is more than what the ratepayer office saidis necessary to accommodate generation projects that currently have executed powerpurchase agreements.

The lawjudge said the ratepayer office did not consider the ISO's account that 6,090 MWof generation projects had requested interconnection as of October 2015, including860 MW with executed power purchase agreements. Further, the judgepointed out that the ISO testified to reliability concerns associated with the interimupgrades.

The projecthas a long history. SoCalEd originally sought approval of the West of Devers upgradesin 2005 as part of an application to construct the Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 TransmissionLine Project, or as Arizona called it, the Palo Verde-Devers No. 2 project.Originally, SoCalEd applied in California and Arizona to build a 500-kV line betweenthe Palo Verde substation in Arizona and the Devers substation in North Palm Springs,Calif., as well as a 220-kV system west of the Devers substation that included theupgrades in the current West of Devers Upgrade Project application.

The ArizonaCorporation Commission in May 2007 deniedSoCalEd authority to construct the Arizona portion of the project.Also, the California PUC found the West of Devers upgrades, which extend due westand then northwest from Devers substation, to be infeasible because the Morongonation had informed SoCalEd that they were unacceptable.

However,the PUC approved the California-only portion of the Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 projectin November 2009 and construction was completed by September 2013 on the 150-milestretch from the Colorado River substation near Blythe, Calif., through the Deverssubstation and southwest to the Valley substation, according to SoCalEd's website.

The segmentbetween the Devers and Valley substations of the Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 projectwas a substitute for what is now the West of Devers Upgrade Project application,according to the law judge's proposed decision.

In approvingall the lines between the Colorado River and Valley substations, the PUC recognizedthat additional transmission upgrades west of Devers might be needed in the futureand that SoCalEd and the Morongo nation could continue to negotiate a right-of-wayagreement for that purpose. The utility already had a right of way through triballand for its existing smaller lines.

Ultimately,those negotiations were successful, which have led to the law judge's recommendationfor the PUC to now approve the West of Devers Upgrade Project.