New SDG&E powerline project to begin soon

Construction will soon begin on SDG&E’s new Sycamore-Penasquitos 230 kV transmission line, which runs from the Sycamore Canyon substation in Miramar to the Penasquitos substation in Torrey Hills. The purpose of the project is to improve reliability, deliver imported energy more efficiently to the San Diego coastal areas and integrate more renewable energy into SDG&E’s system, helping to meet the state policy goals following the early retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The work is expected to be complete by June 2018.

The new transmission line runs 11.5 miles underground and three miles above ground, coming from the south through Mira Mesa. This route for the project was considered the “environmentally superior alternative” and was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in October last year — it includes undergrounding of the line from Pomerado Road to Miramar, avoiding Carmel Valley’s neighborhood 10.

The northern route for the Sycamore-Penasquitos line was long-discussed as the preferred alternative for this project, coming to Torrey Hills from the east through Carmel Valley. The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board sent a letter of opposition to the CPUC due to the negative impacts the new power lines would have on homes in Carmel Valley and in the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. The northern route included removing the wood frame structures in the canyon and replacing them with 17 new, 79-foot-tall tubular steel poles.

In a somewhat surprising move in October 2016, the CPUC approved the more costly but environmentally superior southern route, coming to Torrey Hills from the south from an underground portion from Miramar, avoiding Carmel Valley’s Neighborhood 10.

In an email, Torrey Hills resident Rick Ferlito expressed concerns that he and his Torrey Hills neighbors were not notified about the change in the plans and did not receive information about the alternate southern route prior to the October decision.

Jeff Powers, a representative for SDG&E, said that residents and the Torrey Hills Community Planning Board received at least a half dozen notices in the mail, beginning in August 2014. He said SDG&E also held several workshops — including the most recent one on Feb. 15 in Miramar.

“SDG&E is committed to working with all affected communities before and during construction. We have and will continue to coordinate with local residents, businesses, schools, planning and civic groups and other stakeholders to reduce the impacts as much as possible,” Powers said. “As it relates specifically to our outreach with area residents, it’s important to remember that SDG&E has a representative that sits on the Torrey Hills Community Planning Board so anytime there is an issue that needs to be addressed, we are quick to address any concerns.”

Ferlito also voiced concerns about the aesthetics and safety of the new lines in Torrey Hills.

“The present high voltage lines in Torrey Hills are unsightly and extremely noisy during nights of high humidity. They also may present a problem in a large earthquake,” Ferlito said. “Adding additional lines to the existing towers will compound the problems.”

Powers said there are no new towers in the area as a part of the project and Rich Quasarano, the SDG&E representative on the Torrey Hills planning board, said that the project will simply add wires, known as a “bundled conductor,” to the existing lattice structure in Torrey Hills.

“I don’t think visually you’ll even notice,” he said.

Ferlito had made a request that SDG&E consider undergrounding the Torrey Hills portion just as the Miramar portion will be — he didn’t believe it made sense that the business district area would be undergrounded but residential areas would not be.

Powers said that as part of the CPUC review it was determined that additional undergrounding of the line in this area would result in “significant impacts to the environment.”

The Torrey Hills Community Planning Board was additionally asked to consider supporting Ferlito’s request to underground the Torrey Hills portion. As Ferlito was not present at the Feb. 21 planning board meeting, Chair Kathryn Burton pulled the item from the agenda — board members said that undergrounding was unlikely at this state of the project due to the cost and impact.

“The alternative route is going to impact fewer people in a negative way,” Burton said.