San Diego Gas & Electric and the Cleveland National Forest completed a fire hardening and safety project, replacing thousands of wooden poles with steel to better protect the electrical grid from the impact of forest fires, it was announced Monday.
The project included wood-to-steel pole conversions and replacement or undergrounding of equipment to improve the fire-resistance of electric infrastructure throughout 880 square miles in eastern San Diego, including the communities of Julian, Pauma Valley, Descanso, Pine Valley, Mount Laguna and Campo.
"This fire hardening project will not only safeguard communities within and adjacent to forest from potential wildfire threats, it also protects priority watersheds improves sensitive wildlife habitats and scenic areas," said Cleveland National Forest Supervisor Scott Tangenberg. "This project was indeed a team effort, and it strengthened relationships and fostered new partnerships that will have lasting results for the cultural and natural resources we manage."
Following the wildfire seasons of 2003 and 2007, SDG&E began planning and designing the fire-hardening programs. Construction began shortly after the company received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission and the United States Forest Service in 2016.
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"This is an enormous accomplishment for our region and the result of incredible partnerships at the local, state and federal levels, as well as the patience of so many of our customers whose lives have been disrupted over the life of the project," said Caroline Winn, SDG&E's CEO. "Many dedicated crews and individuals worked for more than a decade, often in challenging conditions, and we are so proud and excited to announce its completion knowing that it plays a vital role in SDG&E's commitment to making our electric system safer, cleaner and more reliable."
According to a company statement, the overall Cleveland National Forest project is made up of 20 smaller projects which include a total replacement of 607 miles of new conductor and equipment built to withstand winds more than 85 mph and high temperatures, 17 new miles of undergrounded distribution lines located in high-priority areas and the replacement of more than 2,100 wood poles with new-fire resistant, weatherized steel poles.
With completion of the project, 30% of San Diego's backcountry electric infrastructure has been fire-hardened to date.
According to SDG&E, it worked with the U.S. Forest Service to consult with the local Kumeyaay and Luiseno Tribes to fire harden the electric infrastructure on National Forest System lands, as well as other lands within the high fire threat district.
Tribal consultation efforts continue as the utility company enters the post-construction phase of the project.