Fate of gas pipeline through San Bernardino unclear

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Home owner Ed Woolbert,73, of San Bernardino stands in his front yard with Valencia Avenue behind him and is among a group of residents concerned about a gas pipeline project which they say would rip up their San Bernardino neighborhood. Woolbert is a retired general contractor and says it will do more damage than the gas company is claiming it will. TERRY PIERSON — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

About the project

Name: North-South pipeline

Description: If built, it would run from Adelanto, in San Bernardino County’s High Desert, through the county to Moreno Valley in Riverside County.

Proponents: Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric

Length: 65 miles

Diameter: 3-foot pipes

Cost: $621.3 million

Funding source: Would be paid for through rate increases

Purpose: To ensure a reliable source of natural gas

Concerns: Disruption of neighborhoods and shopping centers

Estimated jobs: 8,000

IF YOU WATCH

The California Public Utilities Commission will again consider a proposed pipeline through San Bernardino County.

When: 9:30 a.m. May 26

Where: San Francisco

How to view: The meeting will be streamed live online at cpuc.ca.gov

A proposal to build a 65-mile natural gas pipeline through San Bernardino County to Moreno Valley appears to have little support from state regulators.

The California Public Utilities Commission postponed a decision Thursday, but during a brief discussion commissioners said they were inclined to deny the request.

That came as good news to residents of San Bernardino, where concern about the project has been strongest and where city officials said the proposed route would disrupt some of its busiest and most attractive neighborhoods.

Ed Woolbert, who started organizing his neighbors on Valencia Avenue in San Bernardino against the plan more than a year ago, said he was encouraged.

“Our community on Valencia really got together on it,” he said. “It really affected everybody’s front yard.”

The pipeline would run from a pumping station in Adelanto, in the High Desert, to one in Moreno Valley. It would roughly follow the 15 Freeway through the Cajon Pass and then east along the 215 Freeway to San Bernardino. The final stretch would go from rural Reche Canyon Road to Moreno Valley,

Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric, both subsidiaries of Sempra Energy, have sought rate increases to pay for the $621.3 million project, which they said is needed to secure a reliable source of additional natural gas.

Last month, an administrative law judge with the commission recommended that the project — dubbed the North-South pipeline — and rate increases be rejected, saying the utilities had failed to show that the project was needed.

In his ruling, Judge Karl Bemesderfer determined that there are less costly alternate projects that would go through more sparsely populated areas and pose less of a safety or environmental risk.

At Thursday’s meeting, most commissioners sided with the judge’s ruling.

“This was not a close call,” Commissioner Mike Florio said. “The evidence was pretty overwhelming that this project was not justified.”

BEST SOLUTION?

Officials with the utilities have said the 3-foot-diameter pipeline is needed to carry natural gas between two east-west pipelines that enter California at Needles and Blythe to ensure a reliable source of the fuel for future electricity-generating plants.

With California seeking more clean energy sources — and the San Onofre nuclear power plant shut down for good — natural gas will be needed increasingly for power generation, utility officials said. The region, which only has one natural gas supplier, is vulnerable to shortages, they say.

“SoCalGas believes this new infrastructure is the best and most cost-effective way to address these vulnerabilities for the long term,” Southern California Gas Co. spokeswoman Melissa Bailey said in an email.

In written comments to the commission responding to the judge, the utilities stated that they “have an obligation to provide safe, reliable service to all of our customers, and it is not reasonable for the commission to agree that we have a problem and not provide a path forward for resolving it.”

Though other commissioners also sided with the judge, commission President Michael Picker delayed the vote until May 26. He did so because of a request to deny the project without prejudice, meaning the utilities could apply again. He said he’d like more time to consider that request.

Other commissioners said they were ready to deny the project Thursday.

“I don’t think we need to put an invitation out there,” Florio said. “They could turn around and file the same application tomorrow and put us through months of time and expense when we’ve already ruled based on the evidence we have here.”

‘LONG-RUNNING DISRUPTION’

In his ruling, Bemesderfer said competing proposals by Transwestern and TransCanada, which would go near Needles, and one underway by El Paso Natural Gas in Arizona would increase the natural gas supply and would not cost ratepayers as much. They also would go through desert areas, meaning that construction would be less disruptive to residents.

San Bernardino City Councilman James Mulvihill said it was hubris on the part of the utilities to not partner with the other projects.

Mulvihill, in whose ward the project would be built, said the city could be mired in construction for a couple of years as the utility built an 8-foot trench that would require a 50-foot right-of-way.

He said it would cause traffic jams near Cal State San Bernardino, Arrowhead Country Club and major shopping centers.

“It would be a long-running disruption across several miles of the city,” Mulvihill said.





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