Customer demand for electricity in Hollister is beginning to challenge the available supply as PG&E works on increasing capacity at the Hollister substation. While the project is still in the design phase, work on the substation will not be completed until spring 2024, leaving several pending construction projects with no available power until then.
PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado provided a statement to BenitoLink from the utility’s Service Planning Team: “We have invested $1 billion in capacity upgrades between 2015 and 2021 and are spending more on capacity than ever before. At the same time, we know that this investment has not been sufficient to meet some current and future needs of some of our customers.”
San Benito County has three distribution substations, including the San Benito Substation, located near Earthbound Farms in San Juan Bautista, the Hollister Substation, located near Flora Ave, and the Panoche Substation, located along Hwy 5.
Of the three, only the Hollister substation, which is served by two 115-kilowatt power lines, is at the limits of its capacity at a reported 160 megawatts (MW) with a planned expansion of 20 MW. The San Benito Substation has almost a third of its capacity, with 10 of its 30 MW still available for use, and the Panoche Valley substation receives power from a 12,000-volt circuit from the Fresno County line.
This is not good for several new projects in town, including the planned construction of three cannabis cultivation businesses and several EV charging stations along San Felipe Road as well as new EV fleets and warehouse sites near the Hollister airport. According to the service team statement, those projects may have no, or severely limited, power capacity until the substation upgrade is completed in 2024. Any other new construction projects will also have little or no power available.
One wild card in Hollister’s energy future is Project Almond, the 1.05-million-square-foot distribution center being built near the airport whose tennant has yet to be revealed. Tostado was unable to comment on the potential power draw for the new project, and inquiries to the Hollister Planning Commission concerning the technical specifications went unanswered.
According to Shipley Energy, an energy provider in the northeast, the average non-refrigerated warehouse consumes approximately 6.1 KW-hour (0.0061 MW) of electrical energy per square foot.
Hollister mayor Mia Casey said that she has communicated with PG&E about its current capacity and that they are looking to increase it in light of Project Almond.
“The biggest thing about how PG&E works is that they won’t do anything to add capacity until they get a submission and application, which is only good for a certain amount of time,“ said Casey. “And it has to be when a project is shovel-ready, when they’re in the building mode, and have all their approvals.”
Casey said that the way PG&E handles capacity creates problems for overall planning, as projects take years to develop and build, then possibly wait another year for sufficient power.
“It would be better if they were more proactive and increased capacity beforehand,” she said. “We have thousands of homes in the pipeline to be built, and we’ve got numbers from the state that show we’ve got to build another 5,000 in six years. It’s expensive to build a new substation, but it’s not going to be any cheaper later.”
While the state requires municipalities to plan for housing through its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), it does not require building.
PG&E’s own priorities is one of the problems, said San Juan Bautista City Councilmember John Freeman.
“Right now, they are preoccupied with burying transmission lines in high-fire areas,” he said. “This comes to the detriment of decent customer service in other areas. Here in San Juan, our transformers can handle more capacity. But PG&E has to consider that things are going to grow organically even if we don’t want them to.”
Saying “PG&E often takes a huge amount of time to turn on the lights for new homes,” District 11 state Senator Scott Weiner introduced SB 83, which will limit to 60 days the time utilities can take to connect new construction to the electric grid.
PG&E said, “We are committed to making it right for our customers, including those in San Benito County and the city of Hollister.”
We need your help. Support local, nonprofit news! BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is committed to this community and providing essential, accurate information to our fellow residents. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s public service, nonprofit news.