ST. HELENA — PG&E has been forced to halt upgrades of its high-voltage transmission line between Santa Rosa and St. Helena after St. Helena residents and city officials said the utility failed to disclose the full impact of the project.
The California Public Utilities Commission has “suspended” PG&E’s March 20 Advice Letter, which laid out the scope of the project, pending new public comments and a final determination by the CPUC, City Manager Mark Prestwich told the City Council on Tuesday.
PG&E is working to strengthen 12 miles of transmission line between Santa Rosa and St. Helena to reduce the danger of wildfires. The utility reported earlier this month that this would mean replacing 93 transmission towers and installing one new tower in a St. Helena backyard.
Although the suspension put a stop to the construction described in the Advice Letter, some prep work is still allowed, so helicopter activity may continue along the 60kV power line.
Residents and city officials were caught off guard when the utility proposed to install a pole in Jessica and Kevin Hague’s backyard on Hudson Avenue. The Hagues, their neighbors, and the city have urged the CPUC to conduct a thorough environmental review of PG&E’s project and consider alternatives such as rerouting the line around residential areas or putting it underground.
County officials sent a letter to the CPUC last Thursday expressing the same concerns.
As legal justification for installing a pole in the Hagues’ backyard, PG&E initially showed them an easement from 1928 that stated that no new poles can be installed without the property owner’s agreement. Jessica Hague told the council on Tuesday that PG&E has since admitted that it lacks the necessary easement to install the pole.
A PG&E spokesperson has since said the proposed pole in the Hagues’ backyard is just one of several options under consideration, and that engineering plans haven’t been finalized.
The Hagues and other neighbors on Hudson say they weren’t notified of the new pole until a PG&E subcontractor told the Hagues about it in May, more than a month after the project’s comment period had closed on April 10.
Prestwich said that according to the CPUC, the database PG&E used to send notification letters was incomplete, and PG&E has acknowledged the error.
PG&E has until Thursday to respond to the latest public comments. Prestwich said PG&E representatives plan to meet with him on Thursday or Friday and then meet with affected residents.
Jessica Hague said she has offered PG&E an interim solution of rehanging the line spanning their backyard, using existing towers, while the utility studies the project’s environmental impact and investigates alternatives.
PG&E plans to replace existing towers and poles to comply with current safety standards and reduce the risk of fire. A PG&E spokesperson has said that only one new pole will be required.