SDG&E Bypasses Forest Service; Permit Request Could Signal A Clandestine Expansion
Last month I attended a Sunrise Powerlink (SRPL) mitigation meeting hosted by US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG). A SDG&E lead biologist on the SRPL project informed all at the meeting that the company was to be compelled by pending/new California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) guidelines to one - ‘harden’ electrical transmission and distribution facilities with respect to fire prevention from downed lines, and two - to put in place fire fuels mitigation programs protecting against wildfires and to manage those programs in perpetuity. I take this as a response in part to 2ndDistrict County Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s, loud, strong and consistent imperative that the SRPL unacceptably increases fire hazards.
I have noticed the wood-to-steel conversion of the 69kv system has been occurring the past year across private lands – including some lands owned by the Back Country Land Trust - in the general Potrero area to the west and south of both US Forest Service lands operated by Cleveland National Forest and those lands under Bureau of Land Management ownership; and have been told that work is part of the 1stitem above. I’ve also been told that SDG&E is in the process of preparing a fuels mitigation program in that area as instructed by the CPUC that will result in SDG&E being responsible for the maintenance of dry season grasslands such that if a power line comes down and ignites a wildfire on SDGE right-of-way, the fire will not spread to private properties. I presume this is to be part of the 2nditem above. I recollect that at a CPUC hearing in Alpine some 3 years ago, it was revealed that in the previous 5 years downed SDG&E transmission and distribution lines had caused some 147 wildfires – some that became horrific conflagrations.
The “Statement of Purpose” taken from the ‘new’ project application to CPUC is: “The Proposed Action is necessary to consolidate multiple, previously issued use permits and easements for the ongoing operation and maintenance of SDG&E facilities within the CNF and to authorize improvements to the existing electric lines to increase fire safety and improve service reliability. The electric lines located within the CNF are subject to severe weather conditions-including extreme temperatures, high winds and ice-due to their elevation and distance from moderating ocean influences. These conditions also contribute to the area surrounding the Proposed Action being designated a High Fire Risk Area by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and, as such, require that the electric lines be augmented in terms of pole strength and configuration to better withstand local fire conditions and comply with California Public Utilities Commission General Orders, North American Electric Reliability Corporation/Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requirements, and SDG&E standards. The existing electric lines are necessary to supply electricity to the local area and increase SDG&E's overall system reliability, and the existing use permits and easements needed to improve, operate, and maintain these electric lines have lapsed. Consolidation of the more than 70 USFS use permits and easements previously issued for these electric facilities into one MSUP will facilitate timely and necessary improvements to the electric lines, access roads, and ancillary and appurtenant facilities to increase the system's fire safety and service reliability. The expected public benefits from the Proposed Action are increased fire safety and service reliability within and around the CNF. In addition, the consolidation of the more than 70 existing use permits and easements required for these facilities into one MSUP will significantly streamline future notification and operation and maintenance activities by providing advance authorization of those activities, thereby reducing the workload burden on the USFS for the continued operation and maintenance of these facilities. More information on the Proposed Action's benefits is provided in the Preliminary POD.”
In the context of the information passed-along by the SDG&E biologist to USFWS and CDFG, the SDG&E application submitted to CPUC for work on federal forest lands appears consistent with action SDG&E is already taking on private lands through which the SRPL right-of-way transits.
There is a 3rdpiece of SDG&E work that is proceeding, and I have not seen it reported. As I understand it, having also been told by the lead SRPL biologist, as a condition of receiving federal and state Wildlife Agencies’ approval to purchase certain high environmental value lands for conservation with CPUC-approved SRPL mitigation monies, SDG&E is being compelled by the Army Corps of Engineers to restore riparian wetlands within the SRPL ROW and across all mitigation lands SDG&E has paid for. Such work has also been proceeding the past year in the Potrero area. I would expect there could be a similar requirement on SRPL ROW lands crossing federal and state properties. By the way, the Corps is a leading federal environmental regulation agency with respect to waterways – including creek and stream systems - and in such ecosystem restoration.
I can also imagine that in addition to the USFS, the regulatory and wildlife agencies are going to find the consolidation of 70 various USFS permits and easements issued for the SRPL as a welcome improvement to them all in easing their administration and oversight of SDG&E.
When the matter of continuing the SRPL management staging operations for another two years on Mr. Dyke’s industrial property in north Alpine came before the Alpine Community Planning Group (ACPL), I surmised it was for the purpose of conducting ongoing wildfire prevention and environmental activities discussed above. I am a member of the ACPG, but did not attend that meeting due to a medical problem. I have been told, however, that the ACPG did vote to extend.
There is another concern with SRPL ROW not yet addressed publicly. It was pointed-out to me by Supervisor Jacob at the Borrego Springs CPUC SRPL public hearing for East County residents three years ago – at which I spoke against the SRPL. That is, over time as the SRPL ROW is operated, it will eventually become a recognized general ‘utility right-of-way’, and it can be expected that the ROW will come to be occupied by a myriad of utility infrastructure, not just for SDG&E’s electric power transmission. The ROW will likely be incorporated into the federally approved national strategic utility corridor serving the southwest. An example of what this could become is exemplified by the utility ROW along Lake Jennings Road in Lakeside running southerly across Interstate I-8 and then westerly towards El Cajon. It has resulted in the complete and utter industrialization of the once open space a generation ago.
George Barnett, Alpine