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Construction around the corner on Chula Vista energy substation

It's been almost six months since the California Coastal Commission approved the issuance of a coastal development permit for the relocation of the South Bay Substation in Chula Vista.

San Diego Gas & Electric is setting up for a September groundbreaking.

The most recent step for SDG&E in the drawn-out process was the filing of a petition for modification with the California Public Utilities Commission.

The CPUC approved the utility's permit to construct the project late last year, but that was before the Coastal Commission required some changes.

Special Condition 14 of the Coastal Commission's permit requires SDG&E to bury the last remaining overhead segment of a 138-kilovolt line on Bay Boulevard, including two lattice towers and approximately 1,000 feet of overhead line.

SDG&E spokesperson Jennifer Ramp said SDG&E, the city of Chula Vista and Inland Industries -- a property owner adjacent to the build site that was instrumental in bringing about some of the plan changes -- filed a petition for modification with the CPUC on July 31 and is awaiting the agency’s response.

If the CPUC authorizes the petition, SDG&E can include the additional burial and tower removal in its plan without further delay.

If the commission says “no” to the petition for modification, “we're not quite clear what's going to happen," Ramp said.

For that reason, SDG&E, Chula Vista and Inland Industries have agreed to confer on further conditions and actions that should be taken by the Coastal Commission in the event the CPUC doesn't adopt the special condition as part of the permit to construct.

Ramp said that regardless of what takes place on that front, SDG&E can soon start construction on the early stages of the project, since most of the work related to the conditions are scheduled for the end of the project.

"We can get going here in the next couple of months, but we need to get that authorization eventually," Ramp added.

For now, SDG&E is anticipating a construction start in September and says it expects to be issued three notices to proceed throughout the project -- the first coming from the CPUC.

The first stage of construction will consist of grading the new substation site. SDG&E has named Black and Veatch, a Kansas-based firm with a San Diego office, to be the primary contractor for the job.

The new substation will replace the existing 138/69-kilovolt South Bay Substation with the 230/69-kilovolt Bay Boulevard Substation. It will be built in the city of Chula Vista on an undeveloped site approximately a half-mile south of the existing substation and the demolished South Bay Power Plant.

SDG&E says the existing substation is more than 50 years old, is not designed to meet modern seismic standards, and is undersized for optimizing the use of transmission lines.

The city of Chula Vista plans to use the land freed once the old substation is demolished to implement its Bayfront Master Plan, which will be carried out jointly by the city and the Port of San Diego through more than 20 years of successive development.

The city plans a resort conference center, open space and parks while private parties are to develop residential properties.

For several months, the relocation proposal grabbed the attention of current and former Chula Vista politicians and community groups. Some argued that as a necessary step in the Bayfront Master Plan, the substation's relocation couldn't afford to be delayed. Others sought to have regulators require more underground transmission lines so the project would not only appear more attractive on the southern bay front, but would conform to the intent of Chula Vista's plan for an underground utilities district there.

The Coastal Commission's conditions struck a middle ground, requiring some extra burial of the utilities but falling short of requiring all that had been proposed by Inland Industries.

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