In the middle of a declining California natural gas market San Diego Gas & Electric wants to build a brand new $600 million 36in pipeline more than twice the size of the one it’s replacing.
Not only have environmental groups like the Sierra Club spoken out on its destructive path through San Diego communities and natural preserves like the Mission Trails Regional Park, but California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Administrative Law Judge Colette Kersten also proposed the CPUC reject this pipeline in a detailed 130-page report.
The basic reasons: it’s expensive, unnecessary, and unsafe.
“(SDG&E) has not shown why it is necessary to build a very costly pipeline to substantially increase gas pipeline capacity in an era of declining demand and at a time when the state of California is moving away from fossil fuels.” (Kersten)
Why is SDG&E pushing the pipeline?
There is much speculation as to why SDG&E wants to build this pipeline. The old pipeline was built in 1949 when standards weren’t as strict for safety regulations. In 2010 a gas pipeline explosion outside of San Francisco killed 8 people and injured dozens more. SDG&E says building a new pipeline up to date with contemporary regulations will keep communities safe.
Kersten called for a pressurized water safety test on the old pipeline. It’s expensive – $120 million – but even if repairs are needed it’s much cheaper than a new pipeline, and building a new pipeline has it’s own safety risks.
SDG&E is weird on this topic. They use the pipeline’s age as a chief reason to build a new one, but also push back on the water test. SDG&E calls it “akin to test-driving an older, used car at 120 miles per hour to conclude that it is suitable for highway driving on a daily basis, even though it lacks all the modern safety features and has limited remaining life.”
It has some merit to it, but why such a big pipeline?
If the tests prove repairs need to be done the total cost would be expensive, but nothing compared to the cost of this new pipeline.
Another argument for the pipeline is to reroute the areas of natural gas flow for reliability. There are currently 2 pipelines being used in that area. The before mentioned 16in pipeline transports 10% of their natural gas (it operates at a lower pressure because of it’s age) and a 30in pipeline west of it transports the other 90%.
Still, there are other ways to bring gas into this area. Existing pipelines could allow SDG&E to bring gas up from Mexico. SDG&E does get gas this way, but they claim it is too expensive.
The arguments have merit, but there’s a lapse in their logic.
If you’re trying to save money, why the extra expense on such a big pipeline?
California is harshly cutting back on non-renewables. By 2030 all California Energy providers are required to have at least 50% of their output come from renewable sources. That means less natural gas.
But SDG&E’s argument goes like this: As reliability on renewable sources increases we’ll need more natural gas for backup energy.
In other words: Reduced consumption of natural gas will cause so much of an increased reliance on natural gas that we’ll need a brand new 36in pipeline to deliver all that gas.
It doesn’t make sense.
SDG&E’s parent company is Sempra – a fortune 500.
Either the qualifications to run a fortune 500 company are lower than I thought, or Sempra has something else in mind.
Many opponents of the pipeline believe it’s a move to export natural gas into Mexico. Sempra has reportedly been planning a conversion of a natural gas importing plant outside of Tijuana into an exporting plant, and natural gas is booming in the US.
Importing gas from Mexico is expensive, but one could profit exporting cheap US natural gas to another country.
Sempra already owns a plant 15 miles north of Ensenada. If they want to connect their Baja infrastructure to cheap US gas they need pipelines like the one we’re talking about.
SDG&E even proposed another pipeline of this size in 2016, but it was rejected by the CPUC.
For a shrinking market, Sempra really wants to expand Southern Californian natural gas infrastructure.
SDG&E dismisses the Mexico concept as a conspiracy theory, but Sempra has a suspicious history in Mexico. They’ve been accused of bribery and even investigated by the FBI. Lying and using this new pipeline to funnel gas to Mexico wouldn’t be out of character.
What do San Diegans have to gain?
When the pipeline is finally paid off decades later, the cost to consumers will be an estimated $2.1 billion. Residential customers would see a slower spike over time, but bigger wholesale customers could see a 50% increase in cost right away.
If the pipeline actually is for San Diego it’ll end up nothing more than an expensive environmentally-dangerous eye-sore we stop using as the State cuts natural gas.
SDG&E wants permission to rip through communities and natural preserves building a pipeline we don’t need.
This pipeline is expensive, unnecessary, and unsafe.
Kersten is right.
It’s easy to take Kersten’s proposed decision as a victory. Environmental wins in our country are hard to spot right now – but this one isn’t over yet.
The CPUC is scheduled to vote on the proposal tomorrow.
We need to see this one through.
Call on the CPUC to follow Kersten’s proposed decision.
Stop this pipeline.
In an era of Trump’s environmental policies, we need a win.
CPUC toll-free # – 800.848.5580
San Francisco Office (HQ) – 415.703.2782
Los Angeles Office – 213.576.7000