San Diego Gas and Electric is Replacing Wooden Poles for Steel Poles in Fire Prone Areas

May 23. 2014 (San Diego) San Diego Gas and Electric has several plans to replace wood poles in the East County for weatherized steel, as part of a process to harden the electrical lines for fire. These projects encompass the Cleveland National Forest (CNF), where all projects were collapsed into the Master Special Use Permit Cleveland National Forest Orange and San Diego Counties. (MSUP) This plan was revised in 2013.

Initial development of this plan started  “In 2005, in consultation with the USFS, SDG&E submitted an initial application to obtain an MSUP. The purpose of the MSUP was to consolidate and memorialize SDG&E’s rights and Responsibilities in connection with the continued operation of its electric lines and other existing facilities located within the CNF.”


It has since expanded into a response to both the fires of 2003 and 2007, and the reality that we do need to adapt to changing climate, as well as wind events.

This Master Plan encompasses both transmission lines and distribution lines and surrounds the park, and TL 626 goes to Julian. This last one is a Transmission line. You can find a map of the consolidated project here:

There are important aspects to the project that will make it overall a safer environment in the future regarding wild fires. The utility is replacing the wood poles with steel poles. They are emphasizing that the poles will look as their wooden counterparts.

The project also includes weather stations, as well as an enhanced emergency response. This also includes infrared cameras for this goal. The project has already replaced close to 200o poles, and they will be replacing another 3500.

Issues Raised in Scoping Documents

Any project of this type will have critics, and the Scoping document has a series of critiques. Some of them are common to all projects. Some are very specific. For an example of a very specific complaint involved the gates around the Transmission Line 626 in the Cleveland National Forest. “Nwflen” emailed SDG&E about their gate practices: (Ed Note) errors left in material presented to the California Public Utilities Commission))

“TL626/D79 CNF access road left unlocked and open by Sdg&e “best management practice”. Gate situation was documented last week with a photo comment and emails to the local CNF. This week the gate has a security upgrade of one piece of black electrical tape over the pink plastic tape. Sdg&e has no concern for rules, regulations, or safety in the CNF. This gate was left unlocked throughout red flag wind events gusting to 88 mph and power shutoffs by Sdg&e. Access road below now has spent shotgun shells and clay pigeons from illegal target shooters using this unlocked gate to drive into the forest. Gate is located at mile 8.5 on Boulder Creek Road. Sdg&e “best management practice” workers drive past this gate everyday they work out here and make no effort to comply with CNF permit requirements that all access gates be secured. Please deny master permit renewal until a comprehensive plan exist for access road control including consequences for Sdg&e when master permit requirements are not met. “

There are other issues raised, among them the use of helicopters and noise. The Utility has promised in their documents to abide by County Noise ordinances, but there are letters stating otherwise.

That said the long document sent to the Cleveland Forest Director from the Protect Our Communities Foundation is far more significant. Kelly Fuller authored the document as a consultant. Kelly writes regarding helicopters:

 Impacts of helicopters on residents, livestock, pets, and wildlife (especially eagles and other raptors), including but not limited to impacts of noise and vibration. (This will vary by model of helicopter, so all should be analyzed.) There were many problems with helicopters disturbing residents and their animals during the construction of the Sunrise Powerlink, as well as the inherent safety issues of construction components having been

dropped and helicopter rotors having struck objects. There were also problems with helicopters flying too low over homes, and helicopters flying with suspended loads over homes.

 The lesson learned here from that experience is that there need to be strict conditions set for helicopter use, helicopter use needs to be monitored carefully throughout construction by the CPUC, and SDG&E should not be allowed any waivers for helicopter use outside of normal hours or days because it puts an undue burden on communities.


They further ask that the Environmental Impact Report, (it does not) include maps of fly routes, and not just heliports.

They also raise the issue of easements, which has become an issue already in Fallbrook, more on that bellow. They ask for clarification, and how that will affect legal ground.

And while some undergrounding of lines is expected to happen, regarding Transmission Line 629E, as the letter expands, the permits required should be extensive, since it will impact Caltrans, and water tables, among others. They go on to quote the permits needed by quoting the actual scoping plan:

“Section 9 of the Revised Plan of Development, Required Permits and Authorizations, states, “SDG&E would obtain all required approvals for all construction activities from

federal, state, and local agencies, as applicable. Table 16: Anticipated Permits and Approvals lists the potential permits and approvals that may be required for these construction activities” (page 81). In Table 16, these include Army Corps of Engineers Clean Water Act Section 404 Nationwide or Individual Permit, FAA Permission to Fly

Helicopters, SWRCB National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System – Construction Storm Water Permit, California Department of Fish and Wildlife–California Fish and Game Code Section 1600 Streambed Alteration Agreement, Regional Water Quality Control Board–Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification, California

 Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Encroachment Permit, and San Diego County Encroachment Permit (page 82). “

 They also charge that the scoping meeting was not attended by a few Federal Agencies that have jurisdiction over the project.

Ramona- Santa Ysabel Line

 The Wood to steel project is named TL 637 Wood to Steel, and this will run from Ramona to Sta Ysabel, replacing the wood poles for the steel poles. It will also reduce the footprint by reducing the number of actual poles.

In the decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) there is a crtical point to be emphasized. Like all other projects, except for one, in Fallbrook, there is no increase in wattage carried by the line.

In the final decision the CPUC writes about the project:


  • replacing 156 existing wood poles along 14 miles of the TL 637 route with fire-safe steel poles, essentially “fire hardening” the structure;

  • reconductering TL 637 with 636 aluminum conductor steel support/alumoweld conductor;

  • minor distribution line work and undergrounding of existing distribution circuits to new pole locations; and

a new fiber optic communication line constructed between the Creelman and Santa Ysabel Substations along TL 637 for communication between the substations, coupled with other minor modifications.

 The Proposed Project will not include an increase in voltage or expansion of service area. This is a concern of residents due to the Southern Powerlink.

Among the things that they will do is reduce the total number of poles in the line. This means that the pole height will range from 43 feet to 110 feet.

The really tall poles, are near the Ramona Airport and the FAA has gone over it, and approved them as not a threat to air navigation. They will also not be visible to the general public. Poles that are where people can see them will be slightly taller than present structures. The change, the utility claims will be minimal and since they will all look like wood, aesthetically they will match the current poles. Cross arms are wider, but that is to add spacers.

Where we will see them, like State Route 78 between Ramona and Sta. Ysabel, the increase in height while there, should be not that noticeable.

From the approval SDG&E is obligated to notify Residents at least one week before work is to happen within fifty feet. Notices are to go to residents at the 30 day point before helicopter operations are to start. It is critical to understand that the utility will obtain the permits when they encroach on the 78\79 interchange.


The Orange Grove Transmission Enhancement Project and the Pala to Monserrate Wood to Steel projects in the Fallbrook area seem to be the ones with the most issues. These two are part of a larger project, that like Cleveland, intends to fire harden the infrastructure. That said, they are the only lines that have an increase in power transmission contemplated. The reason for that is the establishment of the Fallbrook Renewable Energy Facility in retired agricultural land at “The FREF project will be located in a citrus grove south of the San Luis Rey River approximately one mile east of Interstate 15.”

This plant is supposed to serve north County communities, as well as Camp Pendleton when it comes on line and it would require 79 MW lines instead of 69 MW lines.

It has also already had conflict with residents.

According to the Village News in February of 2011, SDG&E changed poles on a family property, before a decision from the CPUC came forwards clarifying right of way and easement status of that land.

The family told the Village News that “Leatherbury, the daughter of Ed and Eunice Lowell, who established the 200-acre family ranch in 1959, said because of what the project has become, “[her family’s] property will be irreparably damaged for current and future generations.”

They wanted a slight rerouting and the placement of the poles on the northern side of the property. SDG&E, according the reporting, refused to do such, and came to the property and installed the poles before the decision.

There is more, while SDG&E has agreed to underground lines in a small area of the Cleveland National Forest project, there is nothing in the plan to do that around SR 76. This road is part of the Scenic Road System.

According to this, there can be little visual encroachment on the road. Mitchell Consulting Company pointed this out to the CPUC and other agencies, in a letter dated January 28, 2014. In this letter he writes: “Hwy 76 is a designated “scenic Highway.” Per that legislation any change or enhancement within 1000 feet of Hwy 76, as proposed, is required to be undergrounded.”

The letter has a few other details, including the fact that it will affect the Fisher family property in the area, though his business address is in Sta Ysabel.

Projects of this magnitude are always difficult to manage, and while it is understandable that the Utility wants to fire harden infrastructure, it is also a fact that the Utility has a poor record in responding to public concerns. It is also a fact that the 76 is part of the scenic highway program.

Image Stele pole at the La Posta Road near Campo

Image A wide angle showing them in line.







Categories: Climate Change, Energy Policy

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