By Murray Schneider
The PG&E substation at Rousseau at Bosworth Streets is undergoing a facelift. Originally constructed in 1935 and until recently situated adjacent to the defunct Ray Oil Burner Company at 1301 San Jose Avenue, Substation M is undergoing a significant upgrade. The safety and reliability makeover, which begins in mid-April and is scheduled for completion in September 2019, entails upgrading transformers, switchgears and underground equipment.
“The safety of our employees and the communities we serve is PG&E’s top priority,” Andrea Menniti, PG&E media spokesperson, told the Glen Park News about the electric distribution substation that serves approximately 10,000 customers in Glen Park and Bernal Heights.
The necessity of such upgrades was brought home after a fire at a substation at Larkin and Eddy Streets caused a massive blackout in much of the City’s northern portions on Friday April 21. That fire was caused by the failure of a circuit breaker which ignited insulation.
Construction for the safety and reliability project will take place in several phases, with work scheduled Monday through Friday from 8 am-6pm.
“Substation M is functioning fine, albeit its infrastructure is old,” said Menniti, of the building, which dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first presidential term. “Becoming proactive will mean fewer neighborhood power outages.”
Producing or buying its power from a combination of conventional and renewal sources, PG&E electricity is carried over an electric grid of high-voltage transmission lines that connect power plants to substations such as Substation M.
Small distribution substations are critical junctions and switching points for PG&E, which supplies power to northern and central California. Substation M serves as a conduit, connecting the utility company’s transmission system to its distribution one. Substations, such as the Bosworth and Rousseau facility, use transformers to lower the voltage of electricity for rate payers that eventually finds its way to “drops” or utility low voltage lines so that Chenery and Elsie Street residents can reliably switch on their lights.
The two-and-a-half-year project has a local angle.
Fernando Aguilar lives in Bernal, on Elsie Street. A native San Franciscan, Aguilar graduated J. Eugene McAteer High School in 1976, lettering in baseball and football. Aguilar has worked for PG&E for several decades.
He’ll play pivotal role in Substation M’s transformation.
“Fernando has been designated Project Manager,” said Andrea Menniti, as she and Aguilar conferred on the Bosworth corner two weeks before work commenced. While they compared notes, a 23 Monterey rolled by, heading for the Diamond and Bosworth transit hub.
No stranger to such responsibility, Aguilar has served in similar capacities, supervising other large-scale PG&E projects. He’s even paid it forward, volunteering his know-how each summer in Mendocino where he’s upgraded electric grids for the Boys and Girls Club summer camp. As a youth, he attended the camp, which is situated along the the Skunk Train railroad tracks between Willits and Ft. Bragg.
Growing up in Noe Valley, he’d scale Clipper Street to McAteer each morning, remaining late in the afternoon during the spring, taking batting practice and fielding fungos. His mother, Tina, who is in her 80s, still lives in Noe Valley, and his father Humberto’s image is painted on the Mission District mural at 24th Street and South Van Ness Avenue.
“After baseball practice,” he said, “it was a lot easier returning home, walking down the hill.”
“I really enjoy the work,” said Aguilar, who, until winter rains played havoc with them, managed two honeybee hives on his former McAteer campus, now home to the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts and the Academy High School. It’s his way of giving give back to his alma mater. “Substation M renovation should have little impact on neighbors except when large equipment is moved in.”
Menniti echoed Aguilar. “There weren’t any objections to the project during scheduled public meetings,” said Menniti. “The City has given its approval to a traffic plan, and concerned residents can call PG&E dedicated customer outreach and ask for Jodi Blasquez if they have questions.”
“In addition to upgrading equipment inside the substation” continued Menniti, “crews will build sound and security walls and utilize low-noise technology to create a quieter facility for the neighborhood.”
As for emphasis, Aguilar signaled to a row of transformers that hulked behind a locked gate on Rousseau Street.
With a stake in the community and with his beehives returned to SOTA’s gridiron where his honey is sold at the school’s afternoon farmer’s market, Aguilar is a suitable choice to shepherd the substation retrofit to completion.
A product of the City’s schools and playgrounds, he’s one guy who doesn’t need convincing that you always leave the dance with the one who brought you. His thumb on the Substation M switch, he’ll ensure neighborhood lights remain on across his Glen Park and Bernal Heights home turf.
And an added bonus — the buzz from his 2017 reintroduced honeybees will probably be louder than the hum of PG&E’s 2019 refashioned-electric equipment.