Local Engineer in Response to SDG&E’s $3.8 Billion Project: ‘Poles Don’t Cause Fires – It’s the Wires’

by on February 9, 2022 · 7 comments

in Energy, San Diego

One of the reasons SDG&E says its bill are so high, is that the utility company had to take mitigation efforts to prevent their power system from igniting fires in San Diego’s back country.

SDG&E is spending $3.8 Billion on “hardening” their system in East San Diego County. They’ve replaced wood poles with steel and buried lines underground.

Yet, Bill Powers, an engineer with power system experience, interviewed by CBS8, called SDG&E’s $3-billion project – “a boondoggle.” Powers said:

“Poles don’t cause the fires. It’s the wires that hit each other and touch tree limbs and that type of thing.”

Powers added:

“$3 billion with 30,000 meters out there – anyone can do the math and go ‘my god – that’s so much money per customer.”

In its defense, SDG&E claimed to CBS8 that since the hardening of their lines after 2007 wildfires – which were started by their powerlines – the utility has not been responsible for igniting any fires.

Powers countered and said as what SDG&E should have done is given everyone in the far East County a solar system. That way when the winds kick up the power company could shut off the electricity through its wires and everyone would still have power. And, he adds, it would have been a lot cheaper.

Powers added that the reason SDG&E went the more expensive route to harden its lines is because capital improvement projects can be passed on to customers. Powers:

“The ratepayers are going to pay for all of this, but the shareholders are going to benefit from it because profit comes out of these types of projects. …It’s good that – especially in San Diego – people are up in arms because if you don’t like what’s going on now – you better strap on your seatbelt because it’s going to get a whole lot more expensive very quickly.”.

Powers’ advice? Keep the pressure on SDG&E and hound your elected state leaders to let them know that this is not acceptable.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb February 9, 2022 at 12:23 pm

What Bill Powers implies but does not say outright is that in California public utilities are guaranteed a rate of return for infrastructure projects.


Vern February 10, 2022 at 8:25 am

Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) earn a guaranteed rate of return on infrastructure investments, which incentivizes them to build more transmission infrastructure and has led to higher transmission costs around the country.

Currently, all energy in California’s IOU territory is subject to Transmission Access Charges (TAC), whether or not that energy actually travels over the transmission grid.


sealintheselkirks February 10, 2022 at 10:45 am

This popped up two days ago:

PG&E is on the Loose Again




Geoff Page February 10, 2022 at 11:15 am

I’m a little puzzled. The money is being spent to replace wood poles with steel and underground lines. This is exactly what needs to take place. Once underground, the hazard goes away. I’m not sure why they are replacing wood with steel but I can guess. While the wires clashing in the wind start fires, once the fires start, they probably damage more infrastructure by burning poles. Steel poles might be able to withstand fire and stay up, protecting more wiring. Once everything is underground, these can be removed.


Frank Gormlie February 10, 2022 at 12:13 pm

Power’s point is that the poles don’t start the fires but that the fires are started by the wires. I don’t know the breakdown of costs between undergrounding and the new steel poles, but if they still have poles of whatever substance, they still have wires. So not all wires are placed underground, apparently. But $3.8 Billion!!!!!!!!!! We’re all paying for it.


Geoff Page February 10, 2022 at 3:05 pm

Power is correct about how the fires start. But, if the poles are tall enough, the wiring on them might survive a fire, where a wood pole would burn. Undergrounding is expensive and if they can put in steel poles to hold wiring above the fire, that might be economical. And, there are places in the back country where it would be impossible to underground either due to physical conditions or restrictions.

Years ago, I went on a bid walk for a project up on Palomar mountain. PacBell had marked the trench line with chalk. At one point the chalk stopped but we could see it continued ahead about 100 feet away. In between, it appeared, were some protected little plants. The bid was to place a pole on each side, and go aerially over that spot. The back country is full of these obstacles.


John Stump February 10, 2022 at 2:51 pm

The bigger underlying question is why our Democrat Party and Councilwoman Jen Campbell sold us into 20 more years of economic serfdom to the private profit utility SDGE? It must have been the money.

Jen Campbell led the charge to push us sheep into the sheering shute . Jen Campbell sold us out.

Federal agency confirms San Diego has the highest electricity rates in the country
SDG&E’s rate increases starting in 2013 are expected to outpace inflation by almost 70% by 2030 in a CA Public Utilities Commission chart.

San Diego has highest electricity rates in the country | cbs8.com


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