San Diego Supervisor Jacobs Wants CPUC to Look Into SDG&E for Power Outage

In December San Diego Gas and Electric shut down power for days in San Diego’s East County. The utility claimed it was to keep residents safe from wildfires. It came within weeks of the California Public Utility Commission decision to hold SDG&E liable for the 2007 firestorm. Over social media this was one of the claims. That the utility was taking revenge over the CPUC decision. In other words, they were not allowed to charge their customers for the costs of the fire, which the courts found them liable.

We are embedding the letter from Dianne Jacob to the CPUC.

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The letter is significant, since it points to the need of the utility to maintain their distribution system to deal with recurrent Santa Annas. The wind event in the East County was unusual for both the time of the year, and duration. It is the same wind event that led to the Thomas Fire, among others.

After the 2007 firestorm, the utility has done some to prepare the distribution network for climate change, which predicts longer and deeper droughts, as well as heat waves. Both make the recurrent winds more dangerous. They started to replace the wooden poles for steel ones. The thinking goes that this will make the system more resilient, lead to less loss of poles and faster resumption of service after a disaster.

Yet, there is a another solution, that is about ten times as expensive. This is the path that was taken in many other nations with high winds and ice events. It was to bury the lines. This is why utilities resist this.

Higher initial construction costs. According to the May 2011 paper “Underground Electric Transmission Lines” published by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, “The estimated cost for constructing underground transmission lines ranges from 4 to 14 times more expensive than overhead lines of the same voltage and same distance. A typical new 69 kV overhead single-circuit transmission line costs approximately $285,000 per mile as opposed to $1.5 million per mile for a new 69 kV underground line (without the terminals). A new 138 kV overhead line costs approximately $390,000 per mile as opposed to $2 million per mile for underground (without the terminals).”

It is simply short term profit. Most utilities in the United States are in private hands and have only one concern. This is the profit motive this quarter. Look at those numbers. It is clear that no bean counter worth his or her name will suggest under-grounding lines. It is simply too expensive. Never mind that the cost to customers after the lines are down, or in this case to customers who lost power, is quite high.

This is why under-grounding of lines will likely have to come in legislation. Just as AB32 set the way for California to start reducing its carbon footprint, some of the necessary mitigation will have to be written into law.

The letter speaks to many of the intangibles. People were far more than just inconvenienced. If any of those 19,000 residents was an insulin dependent diabetic, for example, that insulin probably went bad. Many of those residents are also on the edge economically, so losing refrigerated food was an economic hit that they may not be able to afford. Then there are the days of work lost at businesses, those are wages lost.

SDG&E also does what it does because it has monopoly power. Why they are also fighting Community Choice Aggregation. As long as they hold control of the market, absolute control that is, some things will have to be mandated.

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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