Jeff Smith noon, March 8
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SDG&E to Seize Sunrise Powerlink Land by Eminent Domain
Nearly 40 of 60 Lots in Dispute on a Route still in Court over Environmental Concerns
Onell Soto reported in today's Sunday paper that San Diego Gas and Electric Company (SDG&E) has begun eminent domain proceedings against some lot owners who have resisted sales offers from the utility. The utility's owner, Sempra Energy, is having the utility move forward with the litigation despite suffering a drop of over 20% in annual revenues to only $8.1 billion for 2009, compared to nearly $11 billion in the year of the Crash of 2008 and just over $11 billion in 2007.
While SDG&E is in many cases seeking only an easement across property to construct and maintain the Powerlink's overhead transmission lines and massive towers, some property owners are so incensed about the potential damage to their property and loss of owner's enjoyment that for them, it would be better for the utility to buy the entire lot from current individual owners, according to Soto's front page article.
Related Article: POWER PLAY: SDG&E USES EMINENT DOMAIN , SEEKS TO TAKE UP TO 80 PROPERTIES FOR POWERLINK
San Diego electricity franchisee SDG&E is apparently flush with victory after having a federal re-trial of United States of America v. SDG&E dismissed late last year. In that case, the District Court failed to take notice of a key provision in the Clean Air Act's National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). Federal NESHAP regulations used in any criminal proceeding must also include “more stringent” state standards, but California's state standards covering asbestos waste material and debris were never required for consideration by the District Court.
The City Council of San Diego has authority to review the franchisee for failing to uphold sate and federal laws, but no council member has ever raised the issue since the first guilty verdicts in United States of America v. SDG&E or in another matter where SDG&E was found liable for the deaths of marines who died after their helicopter hit an unlit transmission tower at night. See Reader articles by Matt Potter for details of any Sempra Energy or SDG&E contributions made to those politicians, including those contributions made directly from “Sempra Entities” executives, other employees or paid lobbyists that might have had something to do with United States of America v. SDG&E.
The City Council has also refused to review the franchise fee paid by SDG&E for the right to hang overhead lines throughout the city. Set at 3% of utility revenues in good faith negotiations in 1970, the unchanged fee now fails to recognize the continuing threat of utility-caused wildfires, despite SDG&E's 2009-2010 acknowledgments to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that it is unable to properly supervise its employees to prevent negligent acts that might cause those wildfires in the first place.
An appropriately increased franchise fee would help to close the announced $77 million gap in the 2010 budget proposed by the mayor of San Diego.
Hedging its bet against being held liable for utility-caused wildfire damage to county residents, SDG&E has united with other investor owned utilities (“IOUs”) to seek CPUC permission for each utility to have a Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA) for charging un-insured wildfire legal costs to consumers.
Related Article: SDG&E Doesn’t Expect Lawsuit To Derail Sunrise Powerlink Project
SDG&E and the other IOUs insist that a CPUC decision on granting the joint WEBA application be made without benefit of public hearings on the matter. Formal opposition to the WEBA application was filed late last year by both CPUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates and CPUC's Consumer Protection and Safety Division.