San Juan Capistrano

                                                                                                                  Guest Column
            The Case for Moving SDG&E Substation
                                Out of San Juan

                                             By Dominic Fergus-Bentall

I am puzzled by SDG&E’s continued pursuit of the doubling of the substation in the middle of San Juan Capistrano residential neighborhoods when a better alternative exists. SDG&E’s “Option F” plan would move the substation away from homes and people, by putting it on vacant Ranch-owned property east of town. And yet the proposal by SDG&E, which claims to be a good neighbor by sponsoring our annual Fourth of July fireworks display, will no doubt be destructive to the property values of hundreds of homes. More importantly, the doubling of the electro-magnetic fields (“EMF”) which will result from the expansion, pose a potential health risk to the people who live, work and play near the high voltage transmission lines.

It is unclear why SDG&E continues to pursue building a huge substation hub in the middle of historic San Juan. According to their own documentation, moving the substation to vacant Ranch-owned property away from homes and people, is indeed an option. And it makes sense to move it to the Ranch property, considering that their new developments are creating the need for increased power, not San Juan. San Juan is built out; it’s not us who need it. 
While I understand the concept behind the Chamber of Commerce’s promotion of SDG&E’s expansion plan in general, I am concerned by the Chamber Board of Director’s vote to promote it in the middle of our town when so many in our community will be adversely affected by it, and when we are not the ones who will be benefitting from it. What’s troubling is that the Chamber purports to represent businesses that want and need support from the community but are unwilling to support the community in return. This clearly is not a two-way street.

In a recent article in the OC Register, watchdog Teri Sforza offers a glimpse into the enormous amount of money entities such as SDG&E spend to meet their objectives:

The big players on the Orange County business scene poured nearly a quarter-billion dollars into flexing their political muscle in California over the last five years, according to a Register analysis of records kept by the secretary of state.

But the most prolific spenders on campaign donations were not the big banks, or even big retail, as many consumer groups often suspect.

They were, instead, the utility companies that provide gas and electricity to Golden State residents and must win the California Public Utilities Commission’s approval to hike rates.

The top political contributor was Pacific Gas & Electric, followed by Sempra Energy, parent of San Diego Gas & Electric, and Edison International, the parent of Southern California Edison. Together, the state’s three major utilities spent $105.3 million on political contributions, general lobbying and PUC lobbying over the years examined.”

Despite the gloomy scenario presented by the specter of bought-and-paid-for regulation and legislation, I still believe there is power in numbers. The people prevailed when SDG&E wanted to build a power station close to homes in Ladera Ranch in 2008. That project was rescinded thanks to push back from the residents. SJC residents can do it here too. To learn how you can help, visit:

 Dominic Fergus-Bentall lives in San Juan Capistrano with his wife and two children. 

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