SDG&E project to bring new power lines to Los Penasquitos preserve in Carmel Valley

The power lines as seen from the Alta Del Mar community. Laura Copic
The power lines as seen from the Alta Del Mar community. Laura Copic

A new SDG&E transmission line project is set to begin construction this year and some Carmel Valley residents are concerned about the negative impact the new power lines will have on homes and the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve.

At its March 24 meeting, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board agreed to send a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission in opposition to the project moving forward before all community groups have had the opportunity to weigh in on the risks. The board also included their comments that SDG&E continue to evaluate alternatives, such as running a line underground through MCAS Miramar that would not impact local residences and small businesses.

The final Environmental Impact Report on the Sycamore-Penasquitos transmission line was released on March 7 — the comment period for the draft EIR closed in November 2015 and the planning board was not made aware.

If approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), construction is estimated to take about 12 months from start to finish, anticipated to start in June 2016 and be complete in May 2017.

The proposed project will add a new 230-kv line on the existing transmission corridor, linking the Sycamore Canyon substation at MCAS Miramar to the Penasquitos substation in Torrey Hills.

The project is made up of four segments including a 2.19-mile line from Carmel Valley Road through the Del Mar Mesa Preserve and another 3.34-mile line along the border of the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve to the substation near the Torrey Hills Center on Carmel Mountain Road.

The 2.9-mile segment from Carmel Valley Road proposes to add a 230-kV line on existing steel lattice structures and one new tubular steel pole.

Along the 3.34-mile canyon segment, SDG&E proposes to remove the 16 existing wood H-frame structures and five wood monopoles and replace them with 17 new tubular steel poles. The new steel poles are 97 feet tall, while the wooden poles are 70 feet tall. Marker balls will also be placed on the lines to meet FAA standards, which will make them more visible to residents.

The lines are visible from the park where Carmel Country and Carmel Mountain Roads come together, from Gablewood Way, Heather Run, the Hunter Glen pocket park and the new Alta Del Mar community, alongside a popular trail system.

Laura Copic, a former Carmel Valley Community Planning Board member, has been following the issue since 2006 when the proposed project was part of the Sunrise Powerlink. She fought a major transmission line going through the south side of Neighborhood 10 in Carmel Valley and the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve.

“It was a long, cumbersome process through the CPUC in which all concerned community groups had to come together and fund an expert to come up with a less expensive alternative to the coastal link,” Copic said.

As a result in 2008, the updated Sycamore Canyon substation avoided the need for new lines.

“It’s rearing its ugly head again because nobody foresaw the San Onofre Power Plant going dark,” Copic said.

California Independent System Operator (CALISO) said the transmission line is now needed and required to promote compliance with the state’s policy goals related to renewable integration, meet the city’s forecasted load growth and deliver energy more efficiently.

“I really don’t think there’s any stopping it this time but we have some alternatives,” Copic said.

Per the EIR, Alternative 4 would underground a double circuit 69-kilovat power line under Carmel Mountain Road and East Ocean Air Drive. The wooden H-frame structures would be de-energized and left in place but no new towers would come to the community, avoiding significant aesthetic impacts to the community and biological resource impacts in the preserve.

In its comments on the project’s DEIR, SDG&E stated it does not support any undue delays. The alternative would cause a four- to seven-month delay and significantly increase costs.

Another option, Alternative 5, includes undergrounding a significant portion of the line from Pomerado Road to Miramar and avoids the Carmel Valley area entirely. Alternative 5 would cause a 10-15 month’s delay and would have the highest cost of all the alternatives.

At the March 24 meeting, the board was not ready to back any alternative as its preferred option. Additionally, John Horst, chair of the Mira Mesa Community Planning Group, said his community strongly opposes Alternative 5 on Pomerado Road and Chair Frisco White said going against sister planning groups is something they do not want to do.

Each alternative had its drawbacks, Copic said — leaving the wooden towers defeats the purpose of undergrounding and undergrounding would also have a major impact on Carmel Mountain Road and comes with additional health and safety concerns.

Although a lot of people’s view sheds will be negatively impacted by this project, Copic said her priority is to “preserve the preserve.”

“To continue to disrupt the preserve with more lines and more towers is not acceptable,” Copic said. “Whatever alternative is approved, we should request that every effort is taken to avoid additional visual blight to the preserve by keeping the use of marker balls to the absolute minimum necessary.”

The CPUC has not yet set a hearing date for the project. Testimony before the administrative law judge is set to begin in May.