FOR THE RECORD - August 19, 2009

Supervisor Bill Horn
Fifth District

For the Record

August 19, 2009

Keep the Power On

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is asking the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for permission to cut power to as many as 45,000 backcountry customers for as long as 72 hours when the risk of wildfire is extreme. The utility believes that sustained high winds coupled with dry vegetation and low humidity can form a deadly combination when power lines come in contact with other lines or vegetation.

I commend SDG&E for their public safety concern and respect the desire to limit their liability; however, I strongly disagree with their shut-off plan. I believe that shutting off power will do more harm than good to public safety. Cutting power increases the likelihood of confusion during evacuations, makes communication more difficult, does not consider those on life support, and eliminates water delivery to firefighters, schools, farmers and residents. Power lines are only one of many different causes of wildfires. One can only imagine the nightmare scenario that will occur for backcountry residents if fire broke out after SDG&E had already shut down power.

Last year, I was joined by Supervisor Dianne Jacob and several staff members for a meeting with SDG&E representatives where we expressed grave concerns about shutting off water pumps, cutting communications, and relying on generators during fire events. We urged SDG&E to reconsider its plan and work with communities to reduce the risks associated with the proposal.

In talks with SDG&E, I’m glad the utility has made slight modifications in their plans and have offered to supply generators in certain circumstances. I am pleased with their commitment to increase vegetation management around power lines. In a letter to SDG&E, I commended the utility for its decision to underground power lines in Valley Center, which eliminated the need to cut off power and water in certain areas with 2,300 residents. However, much more needs to be done including replacing wooden poles with steel poles and putting more power lines underground.

On June 23, 2009, along with three of my fellow Supervisors, I voted to oppose the SDG&E shut-off plan and its request that the County enter into a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the utility to delineate responsibilities in the event of a proactive shut off. We have always emphasized personal responsibility in preparing for disasters, but we should not raise the stakes for those who are not prepared.

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