By Tristan Stidham
On October 5, 2020, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued its final decision granting San Diego Gas & Electric Company’s (SDG&E) request for a permit to construct the Tie Line (TL) 6975, San Marcos to Escondido project, and ending the three-year proceeding. The Commission voted unanimously to approve SDG&E’s permit at its September 24, 2020 meeting. According to SDG&E’s original application, filed on November 15, 2017, the project includes “the rebuild, new build, and reconductoring/ re-energizing of approximately 12 miles of 69 kV overhead electric power line from the existing San Marcos Substation to the existing Escondido substation.” SDG&E also asserts that the project is needed in order to “improve service reliability and reduce electricity congestion” in North County.
Throughout the CPUC’s three-year proceeding, in considering whether or not to grant the requested permit, the Commission heard from the City of San Marcos, and a number of homeowners, who opposed the project. The opposition centered on arguments that the power line will increase fire risks and decrease the value of homes in the area. For example, in response to Administrative Law Judge Brian Stevens’ August 5, 2020, proposed decision to grant the permit, the City of San Marcos submitted comments in opposition to Tie Line 6975 on August 25, arguing that the Final Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) prepared in support of the application did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as the impacts on the City, its residents, public property, and public in general were not sufficiently identified, evaluated, and/or addressed. Specifically, the City argued that the MND was not the proper environmental review document for the project because there was substantial evidence in the record indicating that the project may have a significant impact on the environment, thus requiring a full Environmental Impact Report before the project can be approved. The City also argued that the wildfire risk, noise impact, and visual impact analyses were insufficient and unsupported by expert opinion or evaluation.
Likewise, a coalition of homeowners associations and an individual, Dr. Robert H. Pack, submitted joint comments on the proposed decision on August 25, focusing on the increased fire risk, as well as the impact on a local scenic vista. These homeowners also argued for a full Environmental Impact Report before the permit can be granted.
The Commission heard public comment to this effect at its September 24, 2020 meeting, consisting almost entirely of opposition to the power line. Members of the public asked for the power line to be underground to mitigate fire risk and requested that a proper Environmental Impact Report be conducted. Some members of the public feared that a downed power line could spark a fire, while others spoke on the increased difficulty to obtain fire insurance. In response, SDG&E claimed that moving the lines underground would double or triple its cost.
The CPUC’s final order noted that SDG&E agreed to implement the CPUC’s recommended mitigation measures to reduce the impacts on wildfires, traffic, and other concerns, and concluded that “there is no evidence the project may have a significant impact on the environment that cannot be mitigated or avoided.” Commissioner Shiroma further noted during the public hearing that the project had a “thorough environmental assessment.” The mitigation measures with which SDG&E must comply take when building the power line are set forth in Attachment A to the final decision.
While the October 5 decision ends the proceeding, some homeowners have reportedly stated their intent to appeal or sue to reverse the decision and prevent the building of the power line. At this writing, no such appeal has been filed.