PG&E’s Plan For Improvement Sparks Protest
Residents Concerned Over Placement of Large Poles, More Lines
By Jon Chown
Pacific Gas and Electric Company is planning on major improvements to its transmission system locally, but since that plan includes the addition of new lines and much larger poles, controversy is building before any ground has been broken.
The project, to be constructed along the Freedom Boulevard corridor, will connect a second 115 kV line between PG&E substations in Corralitos and southern Aptos. It does this by creating a new 1.7 mile-long 115 kV line with new poles, and converting 7.1 miles of existing line into a double 115kV line with larger poles. Work is estimated to begin in the summer of 2015 and finished by fall of 2016.
It’s those larger power poles that have drawn concern from residents. About 31 new wood poles about 85 feet tall will replace 26 older, shorter poles. Another six or so 91-feet-high steel poles will also be installed at the intersection Freedom Boulevard and MacDonald Road, the intersection of Cox Road and Day Valley Road, and elsewhere.
“It would really change our rural residential area,” said Nancy Bensen, who lives on Cox Road. “They are going to put these awful-looking poles in and ruin all of my views.”
Bensen said that beyond the aesthetics, she also has safety and environmental concerns. These large poles will be just off the side of a fairly narrow road where there are already terrible auto accidents. There is also a lot of wildlife that would be disturbed.
“Our neighborhood is home to deer, bobcats, hawks, owls, mountain lions, coyotes, birds, quail and many other species. If this project is approved, 165 trees and vegetation along the route will be cut down and the natural habitat will be destroyed and changed forever due to the 12-18 month long construction,” Bensen said.
Nicole Liebelt of PG&E said she understands there is some concern in the neighborhood, but said PG&E needs to improve the service locally to prevent large-scale outages in the future. By using the existing utility corridor, the proposed project creates the least impact at the most reasonable cost.
“The existing 115 kV system serving the Santa Cruz area was updated and put into service during the 1970s. Since then, no major upgrades have been undertaken … In the 1970s, the population served by this system totaled about 50,000 people. Today, the service area has a population of about 90,000,” Liebelt said. “PG&E did consider alternate routes and gave careful consideration to environmental and customer impacts. The alignment PG&E selected was determined to have the least impacts across a wide spectrum of considerations.”
PG&E held two community meetings for residents who live near the proposed construction and has made revisions and taken steps to alleviate concerns. The steel poles will be made to look like wood poles and additional vegetative screening will be placed to reduce the visual impact.
“The entire project is taking place in an existing utility corridor with an established visual character,” Liebelt said.
Jim Kerr, Bensen’s neighbor, said his biggest concern with the project so far has been a lack of transparency. Kerr said, “PG&E originally only notified neighbors within 200 feet of the project, despite a 300-foot notification requirement.” That left Kerr and many others in the dark as well as the general public claims Kerr as the project moves its way forward before the California Public Utilities Commission.
“I’ve probably spoken to 60 people, neighbors who should have been notified and just one remembers a letter,” Kerr said. “The problem is, they’ve led people to believe they were just replacing the lines and that’s not true at all.”
Kerr said every time he looks at documents regarding the plan he sees overt missing information. For instance, he said, there is no real analysis of alternatives. He would like to some of the lines go underground.
“The one segment that is most problematic — that 1.7 mile-piece of Cox Road, Day Valley and MacDonald — if that were underground, they wouldn’t have trouble there and totally eliminate the negative neighborhood reaction to it, I think,” Kerr said.
But PG&E doesn’t think so. Putting cables underground means a torn up road and more cost.
“Given the associated customer and environmental impacts, undergrounding would be more disruptive to the area. It would also add significant costs to the project,” Liebelt said.
Kerr said that following the process has certainly been a lesson in civics. For instance, the project manager the CPUC put in place is a former PG&E employee. Currently, the CPUC is only requiring an initial study mitigated negative declaration, which is a very low standard for environmental review. Kerr said he is hoping for a full environmental impact report.
“I cannot believe a project of this scope doesn’t require a full EIR. The logic escapes me,” Kerr said. “The poles will be roughly double the height of the current poles and they describe that as no visual impact whatsoever.”
Bensen and Kerr have been talking to local representatives and said they’ve been helpful. County Supervisor Zack Friend, as wells as California Assemblymembers Mark Stone and Bill Monning have all written letters to the CPUC concerning the safety and traffic problems the project could create. Kerr said the CPUC has since requested a lot more information from PG&E on issues such as air quality, the impact on wildlife habitat, visual impacts and more.
The California Environmental Quality Review is expected to be complete by mid-October and a 45-day public review is to follow with a public meeting to be held in early November. Concerns regarding the PG&E project can be sent to Tania Treis, principal, Panorama Environmental, Inc., One Embarcadero Center, Suite 740, San Francisco, CA 94111.The final CEQA document will be finished in January. Kerr said he hopes to see some changes by then.
“I don’t want to tell PG&E how to do their business. I guess I’m just really disappointed in the process,” Kerr said. “At this point, if a full EIR is done, that’s the time the public has the opportunity to look at it and dissect it and complain.”
Pacific Gas and Electric Company Santa Cruz 115kV Reinforcement Project
Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Application No. 12-01-012
Filed January 25, 2012
The proposed Project would increase transmission system reliability in the Santa Cruz area during outages. The project will add a second 115 kV circuit between Green Valley Substation and Rob Roy Substation to prevent potential large-scale service interruptions if there are overlapping outages in the existing local electricity supply system. The proposed project includes converting the existing 7.1 miles of single-circuit 115 kV power line to a double-circuit 115 kV power line by replacing existing wood poles with tubular steel poles (TSPs); constructing a new, approximately 1.7-mile-long single-circuit 115 kV power line connecting the Green Valley-Camp Evers 115 kV Power Line to Rob Roy Substation; and modifying the existing Rob Roy Substation and existing power lines to accommodate the new circuit.
The new circuit will provide two sources of power in the event of an outage on either the southern line between Green Valley Substation and Rob Roy Substation or on the existing northern line between Green Valley Substation and Camp Evers Substation.
The project is located in southern Santa Cruz County, California near the cities of Watsonville and Aptos. The project traverses an area of rolling terrain, including agricultural valleys and grassland, as well as low ridgelines forested with mature trees. The predominant development pattern throughout the project area is a mix of low-density residential, open space, and agricultural land uses. The agricultural areas are predominantly apple orchards, berry orchards, livestock pastures, and row crops.
The primary project components are summarized below:
- Northern Alignment — approximately 7.1 miles of an existing single-circuit 115 kV power line will be converted to a double-circuit 115 kV power line by replacing existing wood poles with TSPs.
- Cox-Freedom Segment — a new, approximately 1.7-mile-long single-circuit 115 kV power line connecting the Green Valley-Camp Evers 115 kV Power Line to Rob Roy Substation will be constructed in an existing distribution line alignment by installing new poles and collocating some existing distribution facilities.
- Rob Roy Substation Modifications — the existing substation will be modified to accommodate the new circuit.
- Rob Roy Substation Connections — one new TSP will be installed and two existing power poles will be replaced with TSPs to accommodate the interconnection of existing power lines following modification of Rob Roy Substation.