During a presentation by Southern California Edison’s Dan Brady at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting it became clear why the allowance of overhead lines would be a good incentive to dangle in front of last mile providers connecting the Digital 395 backbone to customers in the near future.
“We’re not undergrounding because of the cost,” Brady said of SCE’s proposal to install a new fiber optic telecommunications line between the Rush Creek Powerhouse and the Lee Vining Substation. SCE would use existing poles to run the lines, if the project were approved.
To run the lines underground would increase the project’s cost tenfold, making a $700,000 project more like a $7 million project, according to Brady, an increase that would ultimately be placed on the backs of ratepayers.
“We’re trying to be responsible,” he said.
Brady was making his presentation to the Board in an effort to obtain from it a letter of opinion regarding the project.
“We need a letter from the Board, good, bad, or indifferent to apply for a CPUC deviation for the project,” Brady explained. The deviation is required because SCE would be installing lines overhead near a scenic byway.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulates SCE and will be the entity to approve or deny whether or not the project will be allowed to install overhead lines within 5.85 miles that run 1,000 feet from the designated scenic highway of U.S. 395. The entire length of the project is 15 miles.
Ultimately the CPUC will say yay or nay to the project, but the letter from the Board of Supervisors is a requirement. However, many of the Board members were not in favor of the overhead lines, especially since Mono County’s General Plan specifically states that measures should be taken to protect the County’s view sheds. This policy is currently being reinforced during discussions of last-mile providers connecting D395 to homes.
Currently the Board, under the direction of D395 Project Manager Nate Greenberg, is developing an additional set of policies for last mile providers, the companies that will have to do the work of connecting the D395 backbone (what Praxis is currently laying in the ground) to the end user. Throughout the recent discussions, supervisors such as Larry Johnston have been adamant that these last-mile providers should be required to lay cable underground unless they can justify why they would need to do otherwise.
Greenberg, however, has mentioned that due to cost, the allowance of overhead lines should be part of the big picture, something to potentially offer last-mile providers to get them to connect to remote areas in the county that may not deliver a high return on investment.
The SCE project and the D395 policies overlapped at Tuesday’s meeting.
“You need to explore underground options,” said Supervisor Hap Hazard to Brady. “SCE has to be held to the same standards as everyone else.”
The Board suggested that SCE should work with Praxis, the California Broadband Cooperative (CBC) and County staff prior to settling on an agreement for the project.
“That 10-1 number gets blown out of the water if you’re working with Praxis,” Hazard said. “You don’t have to dig the ditch.”
Hazard also suggested that SCE’s project wouldn’t need to be underground the entire 15 miles, but just in those 5.85 near the scenic byway.
Brady was happy to discuss the project further, but pointed out that it was not SCE’s preference to use someone else’s fiber line due to the importance of the project. Not owning the pole may make it more difficult to access the pole when needed.
According to the staff report, “SCE operates several hydroelectric generating facilities in the Eastern Sierra that provide clean electricity to our customers in Mono County.” While much of its facilities and equipment have been updated, some areas still need upgrades. The project in question would install a new fiber optic telecommunications line to create a reliable, automated communication infrastructure for dam surveillance and an early warning system in case of dam failure. The project would also increase the reliability of the telecommunications system necessary to control and monitor the Rush Creek Dam.
Randy Schultz SCE Project Manager, added that Brady was being polite and that truly, “we try not to do it [use someone else’s line] at all. We are opposed to going with a third party.”
SCE owns the poles it would use for this project, which is one major difference between it and last-mile providers, Greenberg told The Sheet on Wednesday. D395 last-mile providers would have to use someone else’s poles.
Greenberg also pointed out that “leveraging Digital 395 by leasing fiber or [pole] space would save them [SCE] money.” He thinks that SCE should be looking for the cheapest alternative in order to truly support its argument of responsibility to the ratepayer.
Schultz argued that stringing a line overhead was better because it is easily reached and repaired when needed.
Supervisor Johnston, however, shot him down.
“I don’t believe that stringing a line overhead is better than underground because of the wind and ice we get here,” Johnston said. He also argued that in a heavy snowstorm an overhead line would be just as difficult to reach.
“Overhead is less reliable and visually unappealing,” Johnston said.
Supervisor Vikki Bauer, however, felt that the view shed problem was not as big a deal as the safety problem that could occur if the project were not installed.
SCE will wait to apply for its deviation from the CPUC until it has met with County staff and Praxis.