DUARTE – The city and residents are in a last-minute fight with Southern California Edison over a decision to move electrical towers closer to homes.
Edison plans to build a large inceptor tower and corresponding towers in a two mile corridor in Duarte as part of its larger Tehachapi Project. The $3.5 billion effort will transport wind energy from the Tehachapi area of Kern County into Edison’s power grid. The line would be capable of carrying 4,500 megawatts, enough to power 3 million homes at once.
Earlier plans – when the project was initially approved in June 2007 by the California Public Utilities Commission – called for upgrading existing electrical towers that are further from homes near Greenbank and Tocino Avenues in Duarte.
But Edison changed their plans. Instead, 230-foot tower is going to be built near those homes after the power company identified difficulties with its original plan.
“It is wrong they can come in here and do whatever they want,” said homeowner Pam Murphy. “They have lied and steamrolled us from the beginning.”
Officials with Edison said that when crews went to evaluate the area to prepare for construction, they found several problems with the original plan.
Edison would have to remove a lot of dirt and do a lot of grading to the hillside and seismic concerns made construction there infeasible, spokesman Les Starck said.
“We were concerned with our original location that it could not be done in a way consistent with the criteria,” Starck said. “We tried to find a suitable sight and the location we came up with … told us we needed to put it right where we are proposing to put it.”
Previous public workshops about the project outlined construction impacts to residents, Starck said.
The problem was that plans changed late in 2010 and residents who had expected towers out of view, are now getting a new larger tower next to their homes.
Bill Murphy said the tower is going to be 30-feet from his neighbor’s bedroom. He said he doesn’t understand why Edison can’t build the tower – and corresponding stabilizing towers – on a plateau above the homes.
“It looks more like it is a money thing,” he said. “Whatever is cheaper or can expedite the project faster.”
Starck said cost wasn’t an issue for Edison. If it were necessary or feasible, Edison could built the towers in an area that would be most costly to the company. If they wanted to recoup the costs, they would be within their right to pass it onto customers, he said.
“We do want to build these structures as economically as possible, but our first criteria is safety of the system and doing it in a way that is environmentally feasible,” Starck said. “The company would not be financially disadvantaged. People are concerned we are not going up in the area to save money … that would not be accurate.”
Starck said the company should have done a better job communicating with residents.
“I wish we would have informed them sooner and worked with them a little earlier,” he said. “We might have been able to tell them a couple months earlier. We didn’t. As a company … this is something we need to get better on.”
At a recent council meeting, council members were critical of the process approving the towers and informing residents.
Councilwoman Margaret Finlay said she believed the California Public Utilities Commission didn’t consider residents before approving the project.
“It is one thing to see all these windmills up in Tehachapi and go, this is a good thing,” Finlay said. “It is another thing to go ahead and see huge towers located 15 feet behind a person’s backyard.”
Fellow councilwoman Lois Gaston said Edison was an “unsympathetic agency that has never given in on this project.”
Still, the city, residents and Edison are working toward some understanding, Starck said.
Edison has already agreed to move the towers 145 foot north of the alternate proposal. Residents have submitted more suggestions about tower placement, which Edison is taking under consideration, Starck said.
Any changes, if agreed to, would come soon. Edison doesn’t intend on missing its Jan. 31 deadline to begin construction, he said.
“It is very important we maintain our schedule here,” Starck said. “We would like to get the agreement as soon as possible from local residents and city about this location.”
While there may be changes, Bill Murphy said he didn’t expect Edison to adhere to residents wishes.
“Edison is going to do whatever they are going to do,” Murphy said. “They have been doing whatever they are going to do all along. We are paying for this yet they show no compassion when we ask them to move this.”
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