St. Helena officials are urging regulators to order a stop to PG&E construction in the city after a local couple said they were blindsided by the utility’s plan to install a tower in their backyard.
Jessica and Kevin Hague were unaware of the proposed high-voltage transmission line support tower until a PG&E subcontractor came to their Hudson Avenue home around May 20 and told them about the tower in a subsequent phone call. A PG&E representative confirmed the plan to the Hagues on June 5.
On April 9, PG&E representatives briefed the City Council on plans to remove and replace 13 existing towers along the 60-kilovolt Fulton-Calistoga transmission line, but they didn’t mention any poles or towers in new locations.
The way the Hagues found out about the tower was “wholly inappropriate,” said Jessica Hague.
“This solution is intended to last for two generations – 150 years – and PG&E has taken no time to evaluate it, disclose it, describe it, or provide documentation for it,” Hague said.
As a legal basis for installing the tower, PG&E showed the Hagues an apparently unrecorded easement from 1928 that states no new poles can be installed without the property owner’s agreement.
On Tuesday, the council authorized staff to send a letter asking the California Public Utilities Commission to force PG&E to stop work until it clarifies the details of the project, obtains any necessary permits, and reduces impacts on the city and its property owners.
The city’s letter cites lack of adequate notice, undisclosed environmental and aesthetic impacts, a lack of clear legal authority to install the new tower, and PG&E’s failure to work with the city on possible alternatives such as undergrounding the lines or changing their alignment.
According to the letter, the language of the easement raises “serious concerns” about whether PG&E has the legal right to build the new structure. The letter also asks if PG&E plans to install other poles or towers that haven’t been disclosed.
Councilmember Paul Dohring said he was “extremely disappointed” that PG&E didn’t send anyone to speak at Tuesday’s council meeting. PG&E owes the city and residents an explanation for the lack of notice, inadequate legal documentation, and discrepancies in PG&E’s project description, he said.
“They may need to do this elsewhere and we don’t even know about it yet,” Dohring said.
PG&E released two versions of an “advice” letter describing the project, both dated March 20. One says the existing towers and poles along the 12-mile line will be replaced with “92 new lattice steel structures,” and the other refers to “75 new lattice steel structures and 16 tubular steel poles.”
According to the city’s letter, the project design seems to have changed after PG&E briefed the City Council on April 9. The project’s public comment period closed the next day.
Work began in late April and is scheduled to end in October. The existing structures are between 50 and 85 feet tall, and one version of PG&E’s advice letter describes the replacement structures as “approximately 10 feet to 35 feet taller.” The other version says they will be “approximately 10 feet to 30 feet taller.”
The project is intended to enhance safety, reduce the risk of fire, and bring the line into compliance with state regulations.
The 12-mile-long transmission line only passes over backyards for 800 feet, and the Hagues say it would be safer to underground the line within that short span.
The Hagues were scheduled to meet with PG&E again on Wednesday after the Star’s deadline. The Hagues and their neighbors have built a website, hudsonavenue.org, with information, documents, and links to contact elected officials.
A PG&E spokesperson did not provide comment in time for the Star’s deadline.