Fires Play Into Powerlink Transmission Approval

By Published On: January 18, 2008

A California Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge presiding over the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line hearings ruled that San Diego Gas & Electric must provide information on whether the transmission project would increase wildfire risk. The judge’s decision is based on a motion filed last November by the Utility Consumers’ Action Network that asked the Commission to direct SDG&E to file additional testimony related to the firestorms in the greater San Diego area three months ago. In a ruling dated January 9, judge Steve Weissman ordered SDG&E to file written testimony addressing issues raised by UCAN regarding the October 2007 wildfires in San Diego County. Some of the fires–which scorched 360,000 acres, destroyed about 1,700 homes, and killed 10 people–were likely caused by downed SDG&E power lines. The written testimony must address 12 issues, among them: -The impact the October 2007 wildfires would have had on the Sunrise Powerlink if it had been constructed along the proposed 150-mile route; -The need to consider alternative routes as a result of the fires and the costs of those alternate routes and alternative means of construction, such as placing the line underground; -The impacts of the wildfires on transmission-related insurance, operation and maintenance costs; -The costs related to the loss of major transmission links during the week of the fires; and, -The costs of supplemental steps to be taken by SDG&E to mitigate future transmission-caused and substation/transformer-caused wildfires in the planning route. SDG&E previously argued against UCAN’s motion, saying that the utility shouldn’t be compelled to provide evidence and allowed to provide whatever evidence it wishes. However despite its opposition, “SDG&E will comply with the judge’s ruling,” said utility spokeswoman Jennifer Briscoe. UCAN executive director Michael Shames said that his organization is generally pleased with the judge’s ruling. “Can’t complain,” he said. “It ordered the company to do exactly what UCAN had requested.” Shames said he did not yet have a firm opinion as to whether the planned $1.3 billion project would increase the San Diego County backcountry’s fire hazard. “I’m actually holding off on reaching conclusions about that until after seeing SDG&E’s supplemental testimony,” he said. “But, I’m not only concerned about lines causing fires, but also about lines being in locations that are fire-prone and thus might be affected by fires.” However, an Environmental Impact Report on the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line produced by the CPUC, in conjunction with the federal Bureau of Land Management, concluded the project could augment the fire danger. According to the Environmental Impact Report (state)/Environmental Impact Statement (federal), which was released in early January, if it’s built as currently designed, the 500 kV line would “increase the probability of starting a catastrophic” wildfire.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now