SDG&E’s ‘Wood to Metal Power Poles,’ which weave in and out through the Cleveland National Forest and private lands, have raised some legitimate concerns amongst residents and numerous community Organizations. The U.S. Forest Service renewed the utility’s’ Master Special Use Permit and Power Line Replacement Project permits in order for SDGE to continue to operate its’ power lines through the forest. In return for renewing the permits, San Diego Gas & Electric made a deal with the U.S. Forest Service, a service for the replacement of wooden poles with “Fire Hardening” metal poles.
In the mind of the USFS, “fire-hardened” poles should mean fewer fires. However, there are still many concerns and unanswered questions over what SDG&E’s motives are in pushing forward with the metal-to wood replacement project.
A public meeting was held at the Alpine Community Center on February 19th, 2014, hosted Bob Hopkins, of the US Forest Service, paneled by Lisa Orsaba of the California Public Utilities Commission, John Porteous from Dudek, engineers and a project manager from SDGE, who fielded questions from concerned residents and backcountry organizations.
Questions and concerns:
Water Required for Project =Water Depletion: SDGE will use backcountry groundwater to construct and later, maintain, the wood-to-metal pole replacement project. Tim Node of SDGE projects 30 MILLION gallons of water for the construction phase, (a project which could last five years).
The CPUC, however, has tripled the estimate project water to use to 100 million gallons. In a time of severe drought and a declared State of Emergency by California governor, Jerry Brown, use of backcountry groundwater will equal depletion of groundwater.
If there is no water recharge, due to insufficient rains, dropping water tables from the SDG&E wood-to-metal pole project, groundwater tables will be severely stressed and resident well waters may dry out, which recently occurred in Deer Valley due to SDGE project use, resulting in little or no water for residents, wildlife, or water for fighting wildfires.
Increased Pole Size, Load-Carrying Capacity and Conductor Size: Diameter of poles will increase to 5 feet at the base, will be 30% taller, and will have the ability to carry FIVE TIMES the electrical load of current wood poles. This increase of girth, height (and offsetting deeper holes to balance the poles) and load capability will definitely expand existing SDGE easements (which means they would take more of privately held land). Lisa Orsuba, of the CPUC, also asked SDGE to: “Provide the rationale for the proposed conductors on the 69 kV power lines. [And] why the conductor size is increased with implementation of the fire hardening project?”
Bill Powers, speaking for the Protect Our Communities Foundation, said conductors that will be part of the rebuild are capable of processing far more electricity than the current system. He and others are concerned about the long-term goals of the project will carry power from any number of solar and wind projects proposed for the East County. Many of those projects are opposed by neighborhood and environmental groups.
Representative Duncan McFetridge, of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation said his organization is also concerned about why the lines are being rebuilt. He said if the lines eventually do carry more electricity that could mean more people, houses and urbanization of rural areas.
“Our forest is a delicate ecosystem being attacked by growth…This project will only add to the problems we are facing out here in the forest.”
Typical of SDG&E, the backcountry residents did not receive an answer to the question regarding size and capacity increase, but Donna Tisdale, Chair of the Boulevard Planning Group, voiced these concerns–“SDG&E’s project is being sold solely as fire-hardening but it appears to be an undisclosed stealth increase in carrying capacity that may directly or indirectly support numerous commercial solar projects that are already proposed along or near the route in Boulevard, Pine Valley, Descanso, Potrero, Julian, Ramona, and perhaps elsewhere that we are not yet aware of. The USFS shared the same concern, as in its December 7, 2012 comments-“The Plan of Development emphasizes that the proposed action would not increase system capacity, yet doubling certain circuits would appear to increase the capacity of the system between selected substations.”
Increased EMFs: As SDGE is setting the metal poles with the potential to carry 5x more power. There will be 5 times more electromagnetic frequencies surrounding the ground and airspace. Electromagnetic frequencies over 2.5 milli–Gauss : Most experts agree that exposure to more than 2.5 milli–Gauss is inadvisable and have been implicated in causing childhood leukemia. This is a significant point as the health effects of increased voltage Electric & Magnetic Fields was determined not to be considered as a significant change in the Environmental Impact Report.
There are many centralized renewable energy projects planned throughout the study area and they should be analyzed as potential connected actions.
A current proposed project within Descanso is an Ecoplexus solar
project on Viejas Blvd. Future changes proposed by SDG&E to increase
transmission line capacity should not be allowed without full impact review
and modification of this proposed MSUP.
Concerned citizen, Cindy Buxton of the San Diego Sierra Club pointed out, “Because you are trying to co-mingle two projects, one under the State of Ca and the other under the Federal Forest Service, I think this process is breaking Federal Contracting laws by the way stakeholders for the state get this special treatment and furthermore are paid by the process. IN Federal contract Procurement and Contracting, multiple parties are regarded equally and the times when information is shared it is shared with all and the times when information is held confidential it is confidential for all. The Federal Government contracting laws insure that parties all have an “equitable opportunity” in a decision. However by designating a party special and providing them with an additional forum to litigate before this is created seems would provide them all sorts of advantages over the rest of us”
Lightening Rods and Fire Danger: Residents questioned the sensibility of using metal poles to prevent fires, as downed power-line wires spark fires, power poles do not. Additionally, metal poles are superb conductors of electricity in electrical storms. Again, Donna Tisdale commented, “The new solar generation projects represent potential new fire ignition sources that cannot be de-energized during red flag wind events or other emergencies.”
SDG&E appears to be embarking on this project to support Sunrise Power Link Application and it is in keeping with SDG&E’s emphasis on Fire Hardening. Communications facilities do not pose the same risk of fire danger as power lines located on poles. ****
The project’s visual impacts should be thoroughly analyzed in the EIR/EIS. Many
of the visual simulations seem to show that the new poles are going to be significantly larger than the current wooden poles.
This will be a significant impact to the views and ruin the country feel of the project areas. It will look industrial and hard as you drive on our country roads. Concerned communities members would like these to be placed underground so as to reduce this impact as much as possible.
The extension of fiber optic cable from the adjacent SUNRISE POWERLINK (SPL) TRANSMISSION structure to the SWPL EAST COUNTY SUBSTATION PROJECT loop-in is also requested. The proposed refinements will result in a decrease in the overall permanent footprint of the Southwest Power Link (SWPL) loop-in due to the removal of permanent workspace at the two refinement locations.
Several of the individual comments to the Notice of Preparation (NOP) and scoping letter indicated a lack of security and Best Management Practices (BMP) maintenance to existing SDG&E power line service roads. Require compliance with follow-up for proper BMPs: vegetation management, erosion control and locked gate maintenance for security for this project as well as the correction of existing concerns.
Cameras: What is purpose of infrared cameras on metal poles in backcountry?
D. Peffer representing Protect Our Communities Foundation (POC), has concerns, not only of the potential for increased electrical capacity of the metal pole project, but also to the negative impact to the community.–As rate-payers, backcountry residents will not only lose aesthetic scenic vistas because of the higher poles and reflectors, but possibly lose privacy from the pole-mounted infrared cameras, business revenue and/or travel-time due to construction, precious water resources, but will also have to pay for a project that is unnecessary as it currently is being presented.
Other concerns included:
Helicopter Fly Yards are scattered throughout numerous communities-some of whose names were not listed as impacted communities in Public Notice documents.
However, the fly routes are not disclosed which makes it difficult for the public to comment on a potentially significant and cumulative adverse impact with noise and vibrations from low-flying helicopters rattling houses, nerves, pets, livestock and wildlife. During Sunrise Powerlink construction, SDG&E bragged about having up to 40 helicopters in the air at once.
Wildlife, pets, and livestock were witnessed in distress during heavy helicopter traffic. Residents also complained of major disruptions to their peace and quiet and quality of life.
Misapplied Investment: Jack Shu, of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation asked, “Why not use the monies SDG&E wants to waste on metal pole placement and instead offer incentives for homeowners to add rooftop solar?”
To read the complete MSUP, visit http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/environment/info/dudek/CNF/CNF.htm.
To view the application on SDG&E’s website, visit: http://www.sdge.com/regulatory-filing/3792/application-sdge-permit-construct-cleveland-national-forest-power-line .
SDG&E also provided this link: http://www.sdge.com/key-initiatives/cleveland-national-forest-power-line-replacement-projects .