By Miriam Raftery
January 23, 2009 (San Diego) -- An administrative law judge has issued orders requiring the California Public Utilities commission to hold three public hearings on SDG&E's proposed shut-off of power to back country communities during high-wind events with low humidity.
"Many Santa Ana events will qualify, some of which last 7-10 days in a row," said Donna Tisdale,Chair of the Boulevard Planning Group in an e-mail sent to East County Magazine and others. "SDG&E is predicting planned outages of 12 to 72 hours. For most folks who can't afford generators or the fuel to run them, this means no pumps for well water or access to phones or computers for news or emergency notifications."
She added, "SDG&E is also attempting to shift liability for losses, during the intential shut-offs, from the utilities to the impacted rate payers. Let the CPUC hear from you."
The San Diego hearings will be held March 17th at 2 p.m. and at 7 p.m. in the Al Bahr Shriners Center, 5440 Kearny Mesa Road, San Diego. An additional hearing will be held in Los Angeles on the 18th. Members of the public who cannot attend the PPHs may submit written correspondence regarding this proceeding For details, see http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/efile/RULINGS/96478.pdf. The utility has been notified to order all ratepayers with notices in utility bills of the upcoming hearings.
The CPUC is conducting an Order Instituting Rulemaking (OIR) to potentially change CPUC rule(s) regarding power lines and wildfires.
"The Mussey Grade Road Alliance is a party to this OIR, which potentially affects the three major investor owned utilities (SDG&E, SCE and PG&E) as well as telecommunication companies," revealed Diane Conklin, spokesperson for the Ramona-based citizens group. The Alliance has brought the issue of fire ignitions caused by power lines to the CPUC's attention with more than 300 pages of discussion on the topic in the final environmental impact report on the project. According to data submitted by the Alliance, â€œpower line history in San Diego is the history of castastrophic fire, with power line fires burning 17% of all land burned since 1960." The Alliance also contends that "power line fires are more destructive than other fires, and a power line ignition is more likely to grow into an uncontrollable wildfire."
The shut-off proposal has sparked controversy among back-country residents and drawn fire from some public officials including State Senator Dennis Hollingsworth and Supervisor Dianne Jacob at a recent California Public Utilities hearing in San Diego, as ECM previously reported. The utility maintains that shutting off power during high winds and hot, dry conditions is necessary to prevent more devastating fires. SDG&E is facing lawsuits, including a suit filed by the State of California to recover damage costs from wildfires allegedly caused by power lines owned by the utility.