Judge proposes rejecting pipeline

Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric want to build a 65-mile pipeline and pass on the cost to customers.

A California Public Utilities Commission judge is recommending rejection of a proposed 65-mile natural gas pipeline that would run from Adelanto through San Bernardino to Moreno Valley.

In the proposed decision, released Tuesday, April 5, Administrative Law Judge Karl Bemesderfer stated that Southern California Gas Company and San Diego Gas & Electric failed to show that the $621.3 million project was needed to meet customer demand. He denied the request for rate increases by the utilities to pay for the project — the issue that brought the proposal before the commission judge.

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

The two public utilities, both subsidiaries of Sempra Energy, “have demonstrated that there is a need to enhance the reliability of natural gas supplies to the Southern System; but they have failed to demonstrate that the North-South pipeline is needed to meet that need,” the judge stated.

The final decision rests with the five-member Public Utilities Commission, which is scheduled to review the project at its May 12 meeting. The utilities and project opponents will have an opportunity to respond to the judge’s findings before the commission meets.

The proposed pipeline would run from a pumping station in Adelanto to one in Moreno Valley, roughly following Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass and then east along Interstate 215 to San Bernardino. The final stretch would go from rural Reche Canyon Road to Moreno Valley, cutting through property where that city recently approved plans for the 40.6-million-square-foot World Logistics Center.

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.

“We continue to believe this project will provide continued benefits to the region and the customers,” said Kristine Lloyd, a project manager for Southern California Gas Company.

Lloyd said the project provided superior reliability and flexibility to the alternatives cited by the judge.

Both utilities said they were disappointed by the proposed ruling and would provide written comments in the coming weeks to PUC, which makes the final decision.

“Providing a balanced, safe and reliable supply of clean energy to better the lives of our customers is a priority for the company,” San Diego Gas & Electric spokeswoman Amber Albrecht said in a statement. “We believe that this project is needed to support our future focus to provide more affordable and sustainable energy choices for the people we serve.”

However, Marcel Hawiger, an attorney with The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, a consumer advocacy group, said the project would be an expensive burden on Southern California customers, costing over $2 billion over 20 years.

“I’m thrilled that the (judge) agreed that there’s no reason to waste $600 million building an unnecessary pipeline,” he said.

While he couldn’t predict how the commission would rule, Hawiger noted that Bemesderfer heard the case and reviewed the evidence.

“I’m hopeful the commission should give it a lot of weight,” he said.

The project has raised objections in San Bernardino where city officials and residents said it would tear up some of the busiest and most attractive neighborhoods at a time when the community is trying to recovery from bankruptcy.

Councilman James Mulvihill said the project would require eight-foot trenches to be dug through streets near Cal State San Bernardino, Arrowhead Country Club and some major shopping centers.

“That would be disastrous,” he said. “It would be eating away through San Bernardino, disrupting neighborhoods and shopping districts.”

Lloyd said the utility chose a route that would be the least disruptive and meet the project’s needs.

According to the utilities application, the existing system allows for up to 280 million cubic feet per day to meet Southern California natural gas demand. The project would increase the capacity to 800 million cubic feet per day.

The utilities said the project would create 8,000 jobs, involve $1.2 billion in spending and require construction at five sites from the High Desert to Riverside County.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.