By Cynthia Wharton
February 2, 2012 (Jacumba)- - The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) held a public participation hearing at the Jacumba Highland Center on January 24.
Presided over by an administrative law judge, the honorable Hallie Yacknin, this hearing provided an opportunity for interested members of the public to express their views on San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) application for a permit to construct the East County Substation Project (ECO Substation).
The project would include a new 500/230/138 kilovolt (kV) electric substation, a new 500 kV transmission line of approximately 3,065 feet to loop the substation into the existing 500 kV Southwest Powerlink transmission line, a rebuild of the Boulevard Substation to operate at 138/69/12 kV on a new parcel adjacent to the existing substation, a new 138 kV transmission line of approximately 13.3 miles from the ECO substation to the rebuilt boulevard Substation, and a microwave communication relay system. An evidentiary hearing was held May 2, 2010 with the final closing briefs filed on all issues November 7 and 17, 2011.
The public hearing in Jacumba was called to order promptly at 6 p.m. with over 80 residents, business owners, PUC officials, and those who work in the energy industry. Two CHP officers were on hand to maintain good order and discipline.
The agenda included an introduction by Judge Yacknin, who laid down the ground rules. Each speaker who signed up prior to the hearing would be allotted three minutes to voice their opinion. No speaker would be allowed to cede time to another speaker. Speakers would not be sworn in; however, a court recorder was present to transcribe the hearing. Next, representing the Public Advisor’s Office, Kyla Devine identified herself as a facilitator of the hearing.
An unofficial poll of the speakers revealed those opposing the ECO Substation outnumbered supporters two to one. A total of 38 speakers came forward one by one, using every second of their three minutes, at times having to be reminded by the Judge to wrap up their comments as their time had expired. When the hearing was adjourned promptly at 8 p.m., all who had requested to speak had been given the opportunity to do so.
Speakers supporting the ECO substation cited the need for new infrastructure and energy sources to reduce the countries reliance on foreign oil. This and other pending renewable energy projects would aid in meeting the goal of the California Renewable Energy Resources Act signed into law by Governor Brown in June of 2011, requiring all electricity providers to obtain 33% of our electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.
Also cited by proponents of the ECO substation is the boost to economy and creation of new jobs in the renewable energy industry.
The first speaker of the evening, Scott Alevy, President of the East County Chamber of Commerce (ECCC) registered his support by comparing the infrastructure progress of the ECO substation to “the Subway in New York and the Metro in Washington, DC”. Alevy said, “Infrastructure progress is not always popular, but necessary”.
Greg Lansing of Lansing Companies and a major land owner in East County with about 8,000 acres voiced his support for this project as well as the Tule Wind Project. Lansing took a jab at local resident Donna Tisdale, who has led fights against some major energy projects, claiming delays and litigation costs lead to increased energy rates.
Opponents of the ECO substation and associated infrastructure approached the microphone, most with written statements and some with photographs to support their arguments. Arguments ranged from environmental and health concerns to the economic impact on local residents and small businesses. Environmental impacts on local wildlife, including the Golden Eagle and Bald Eagle, were key issues, as their habitats continue to be disturbed or destroyed.
Another concern of residents is an increase in wildfire danger as more above ground power lines stretch across the back country. One resident touted SDG&E’s conduct during past projects including the dilapidation of roads used for heavy equipment, noise from low flying helicopters higher than acceptable and agreed upon levels, and severe disruption to local power.
Larry Johnson of Campo, Chairman of the Rural Economic League, indicated there is a missing element in the ECO substation project: the locals; they are the “losers”, he indicated.
While the rest of San Diego is beginning to recover from the housing crisis, some East County property values continue to decrease, especially those in close proximity to proposed power project sites. San Diego is number one in solar power in the state of California with greater than 4,500 private solar systems, causing a decrease in the SDG&E customer base.
Dennis Burkland, a Registered Professional Engineer and local resident feels this new infrastructure is not needed. He cited, “new and upcoming technology which harnesses Biomass and Bio waste are already replacing wind and solar with less impact on the environment as evidenced in Germany where all nuclear electrical plants are to be phased out by 2022”.
Notably present, but not permitted to speak, was Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group and founder of Backcountry Against Dumps (BAD), a nonprofit group battling the project. When speaker Diane Richards used part of her allotted time to broach this topic, Judge Yacknin explained this hearing was for the public opinion to be heard and as such only persons who are not party to the proceeding may speak. SDG&E was not permitted to present facts or opinions at the hearing, nor would Tisdale be allowed to speak as she represented BAD at a previous hearing.
The hearing adjourned with Judge Yacknin stating appreciation for the high attendance and passionate representation by those who spoke on both sides of the issue.
One resident later expressed concerns over the approval process to ECM’s editor during her visit to Jacumba this week.
“I make my living off this view,” said Ben Schultz, who operates the Desert View Tower in Jacumba, which overlooks the site of the planned Ocotillo Wind Farm. Power from the wind farm at Ocotillo, as well as the planned Tule Wind Farm in McCain Valley and other major energy projects in the works, would be routed through the ECO Substation. “McCain Valley is the last pristine corridor we have left,” he added, shaking his head in dismay.
Schultz expressed outright skepticism over last week’s CPUC hearing in Jacumba. “We ought to quit believing this is democratic process…You go to the CPUC meetings, it’s a kangaroo court.” He voiced disillusionment over other major projects, notably Sunrise Powerlink, which was approved by the CPUC despite massive community objections and serious environmental impacts.
“If people get screwed enough,” he observed, “they could resort to violence.”
If you wish to voice your views on this issue, written comments referencing Proceeding Number A.09-08-003 may be submitted via Subscription Service Website: http://subscribecpuc.cpuc.ca.gov/, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail to:
Public Advisor’s Office
California Public Utilities Commission
505 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102