SDG&E Seeks to Install Unnecessary Pipeline
By Colleen Cochran
San Diego Gas & Electric says San Diego County needs a new gas pipeline. I say that’s bunk, and I’m not the only one.
In May, California Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge Colette E. Kersten concluded that SDG&E and its partner SoCalGas “failed to demonstrate that there is a need for the proposed Line 3602 Project.” If her draft decision to deny certification to the applicants is approved by other commission members, the pipeline project cannot proceed.
SDG&E has set its hopes on installing 47 miles of new pipeline to transport natural gas from the Rainbow Metering Station near Fallbrook, south through Escondido and Poway, and ending at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar. Most of this pipeline, known as 3602, will travel aside Interstate 15, passing through public, private, and federal land. An alternative route has it going through Mission Trails Regional Park.
The company says Pipeline 3602 will offer San Diegans “greater reliability” because the line will serve as backup in the event that two existing pipelines — 1600 and 3010 — should ever fail. San Diego’s population is growing, the company says, so an additional pipeline is needed to fuel the county’s future energy needs; the economy will benefit and the pipeline will offer safe, clean and affordable energy.
The company’s justifications sound good, but they’re not.
The two existing pipelines are already reliable. Judge Kersten found no evidence they were unfit for service, nor has SDG&E claimed they are unfit. According to Southern California Generation Coalition, which protested SDG&E’s application, only one unplanned outage occurred on Line 3010 during its entire 57-year operating history. The outage lasted just one day, with no loss of service to customers.
While older Pipeline 1600, built in 1949, is in need of assessment and, potentially, repair, the hitch is that SDG&E doesn’t want to perform the hydrostatic pressure testing necessary to ensure this pipeline’s continued reliability. It prefers to lower the old line’s pressure, thus eliminating the mandate for testing, and to install an additional new line, Pipeline 3602, to be run at high pressure. Critics of new installation argue that San Diego’s gas needs could still easily be met if Line 1600 is derated.
Pipeline 1600 is 16 inches wide and only transports about 10 percent of San Diego County’s gas. Proposed Pipeline 3602 will be 36 inches wide. That’s an inordinate increase in gas transport capacity. Sierra Club, which also protested SDG&E’s application, has argued that the company’s ultimate goal is not to provide reliability, but to achieve its long-held ambition to begin transporting gas internationally.
San Diego’s dependency on fossil fuels is decreasing, a fact that should lay waste to SDG&E’s claim that a new pipeline is necessary to meet the needs of San Diego’s growing population. The city’s Climate Action Plan calls for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and for all electricity to be from renewable sources by 2035.
San Diego’s economy will not benefit from installation of a new gas pipeline. The price tag for hydrostatic pressure testing is about $130 million. A new pipeline will cost well over $600 million, and ratepayers will be footing the bill. If certification for the line is approved, SDG&E customers will see their gas bills going up, at a time when, in accordance with the Climate Action Plan, their gas usage will be going down.
What about the 33,000 full-time jobs that SDG&E says will be created? Many of these jobs will be short term, existing during the two-year building process. And its claims that Pipeline 3602 will benefit local businesses and generate new tax revenue? This perk will be inconsequential compared to the infrastructure costs San Diegans will bear.
Natural gas is a form of fossil fuel. The extraction process, largely accomplished these days through fracking, involves injecting water and toxins deep into the earth. The result is billions of gallons of contaminated water which have, in several cases, affected drinking supplies.
The burning process, which occurs during electricity production, causes climate change. Scientists have warned that continued burning of fossil fuels in California will lead to decreased fresh water supplies, wildfires, and sea level rise. The costs associated with these events include infrastructure repairs, health costs, and crop loss, not to mention depletion of quality of life for us and the creatures with whom we share this beautiful region.
Natural gas is not safe, clean, nor affordable energy. We do not need a privately-owned company sacrificing San Diego County in its effort to remain viable and profitable.
Fueling energy needs through natural gas is old-fashioned and destructive, but we have alternatives. By investing in renewable energy technologies, such as solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal sources, we can ensure the well-being of San Diego for years to come. Let’s hope the rest of the California Public Utilities Commission makes the right choice for us.
Colleen Cochran is a legal editor and a San Diego-based coordinator for Food & Water Watch, an energy and environment advocacy group based in D.C.