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Low Turnout For Public Hearing On SDG&E’s Gas Line Replacement

Photo by Alison St John

Tina Iki of Escondido considers her comments at the public scoping meeting on SDG&E's proposed natural gas pipeline through San Diego. May 24, 2017

Few people attended the public scoping meeting in Escondido on Wednesday to find out about a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cost ratepayers nearly $640 million.

Few people took advantage of a public scoping meeting in Escondido on Wednesday to find out about a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cost ratepayers nearly $640 million.

The California Public Utility Commission is preparing the Environmental Review of the project. Staff said they sent out nearly 50,000 postcards inviting elected officials and residents who live near the proposed construction in Fallbrook, Escondido and Poway to three public scoping meetings.

SDG&E spokesperson Jennifer Ramp said the new 36-inch pipeline is needed to replace a smaller, existing pipeline that was built almost 70 years ago.

The pipe to be replaced carries about 10 percent of the natural gas that San Diego consumes. Most of the gas — 90 percent — is carried in a newer, 30-inch pipeline that runs north/south closer to Interstate 5.

“Our top priority, of course, is safety for our customers, and for our employees: we all live in this community as well," Ramp said, "and so this proposed project would enhance the safety of our natural gas system, as well as increase the reliability of the system that delivers the energy to our customers.”

After the San Bruno explosion in a gas pipeline in San Francisco in 2010, energy companies are under stricter rules to monitor safety.

The Utility Consumer Action Network, a consumer watchdog, was initially skeptical of the plan to spend millions on new natural gas infrastructure. But the group now supports the plan. An analysis by UCAN concluded that SDG&E cannot prove the existing line is safe to operate, even when the pressure in the pipe is reduced.

Sierra Club opposition

The Sierra Club is opposed to the plan. Pete Hasapopoulos of the Sierra Club said the investment is unnecessary.

“Our cities here locally — our region — is moving to clean energy. We have more and more solar every day, and rapidly evolving battery storage is underway,” he said. “Continuing to pursue fossil fuels and the extraordinarily costly infrastructure to support that is simply antiquated — and not our future.“

Hasapopoulos said several cities in San Diego County are currently considering moving to a system — Consumer Choice Energy — that would allow jurisdictions to get their power from the energy sources they choose, rather than from SDG&E. He said SDG&E is serving its parent company: Sempra Energy.

“Sempra Energy is a Fortune 500, multinational, fossil fuel empire, the largest natural gas utility in the United States,” Hasapoppuos said. “So anything SDG&E does is done to perpetuate the bottom line for Sempra Energy.”

Ramp said SDG&E is a leader in renewable energy: 43 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources. She said hospitals, schools and restaurants use natural gas every day, and natural gas is needed to provide reliability for the system when renewables are not providing power, such as during the night.

She said SDG&E had hoped to get approval this year to build the new pipeline, but a new timeline suggests the CPUC will not make a decision until 2019, after a draft EIR is approved next year.

'Do we need it?'

Escondido resident Tina Iki was one of the few who attended the scoping meeting. She said she is active in neighborhood issues, and the decision about the new gas pipeline is an important one for her. She said she would need more time to look at the maps provided at the meeting, showing options for where the gas pipeline could be laid.

“But ultimately, do we need it at all?" she asked. “That’s my main concern. We have lots of other options for getting energy that are available to us: we’re not using them yet. That’s my concern.”

Photo credit: CPUC/ SDG&E

Map of proposed replacement natural gas pipeline. May 2017

The replacement pipe would bring natural gas from Riverside south through Escondido and Poway to Miramar. SDG&E has already built a bigger pipeline from Miramar down to the border.

A third public scoping meeting to collect input for the environmental review is scheduled for Thursday afternoon and evening at Alliant University on Pomerado Road in San Diego.

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