Just how far did San Diego Gas & Electric go in considering the needs of San Juan Capistrano residents when it proposed a new substation and power lines in the city? Not far enough, a lawyer for the city says.
But the utility's attorney denies those charges.
The two go at it in legal papers filed with the California Public Utilities Commission.
Bypassing local control, the utility must seek permission from the PUC in two simultaneous applications: one, a declaration that the project is needed; and two, an environmental review.
San Juan Capistrano city leaders wanted hearings on the project and when the utility applied for a so-called “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity” without giving the city and others a chance to comment.
The city fired off a letter of protest to be heard on the matter, which an administrative law judge granted in early July. The City Council will get an update of the situation in closed session at Tuesday’s council meeting.
In legal papers arguing for a chance to be heard, the city lobs a number of charges at SDG&E and says a new-and-improved substation should be built in Laguna Niguel or Rancho Mission Viejo.
But SDG&E discounts the city’s claims and says those other substation sites are too expensive for a remodel.
Here’s how some of the issues break down:
“Initially, the city believed that through careful planning and a true spirit of cooperation, the city and SDG&E could work out a project agreeable to both entities,” the city wrote in its bid to be heard. “Clearly, SDG&E prefers to force the city and its impacted residents to participate in adversarial proceedings before the commission rather than to work with the city on a project that the city and its residents can support.”
The city criticized the number of SDG&E outreaches to the community as “merely advocacy and sales pitches,” with no meaningful opportunity to give input and effect change.
SDG&E says that’s not true. Company officials attended 80 meetings with homeowner associations and groups, went door-to-door, distributed materials in both English and Spanish and offered four open houses, the last of which invited guests to come up with a .
San Juan’s Historic Character
According to the city, SDG&E completely failed to consider the historic nature of a town that is home to a just down the street from where the utility wants to raze a on the city’s “buildings of distinction” list.
SDG&E argues that "the former utility structure on the SDG&E Capistrano substation property was not a significant historic resource.” Also, the substation isn’t in the city’s historic downtown and, at best, visitors to Mission San Juan Capistrano may be able to see the two, new, 50-foot buildings off in the distance, the company says.
Alternatives to Building Next to Homes
City officials argue that SDG&E has a number of substations in South Orange County from which to choose to build a super-substation. Better choices would have been in a Laguna Niguel industrial area or the Rancho Mission Viejo project, which currently has no homes.
“Major electric transmission corridors exist just east of the city, and much of the project's area is undeveloped. SDG&E needs to explain why such expansive available areas are not better suited for the bulk of its proposed expansion,” the city papers state.
The utility says it all comes down to price. SDG&E doesn’t own enough land in other spots to build what it wants.
“That alternative was rejected because of increased environmental impacts and its inability to meet the project objective of locating proposed facilities within existing transmission corridors, rights-of-way and utility owned property,” the papers say.
If the utility has to build new power lines next to homes, it should consider putting more of its facilities underground, the city argues.
“SDG&E's application demonstrates its willingness to sacrifice aesthetic values over economic values because it willingly proposes to underground facilities near newly approved communities in the adjacent City of San Clemente while it will triple in size and scale facilities within well-established communities and the downtown core in the city of San Juan Capistrano,” the city wrote.
But SDG&E replied that only a small portion of lines near Camp Pendleton, not San Clemente, will be placed underground, as well as a small portion near the next to .
Mostly, it’s about price again.
“SDG&E has a responsibility to also propose the least cost, least environmentally damaging project,” the utility argues. “SDG&E engineers estimate that undergrounding of transmission facilities costs eight to 10 times more per mile than overhead construction; that significant cost differential cannot be simply ignored by SDG&E.”