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Power Line Setback Exemption Guidance, May 2006


(Replaces July 2004 Electromagnetic Field Setback Exemption Protocol)

Introduction and Background

The following is the California Department of Education's (CDE's) recommended guidance to Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) that wish to seek an exemption from school site power transmission line setbacks as established in the California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Section 14010(c). This guidance has been developed in consultation with international experts on the health effects of electro-magnetic fields (EMF), state agencies such as the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Division of the State Architect (DSA), and the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), electric utilities, school districts, consultants, and private citizens with an interest in the topic.

These guidelines are advisory only and utilization or compliance is not required by regulation or CDE. CDE's discretionary approval of exemption requests will be determined by specific circumstances on a case-by-case basis. For requests following this guidance, CDE should reasonably be able to determine if an exemption is approvable. Requests using other methods demonstrating compliance with the exemption provisions of the California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Section 14010(u) may also be submitted and be subject to other appropriate agency or expert review and consultation as determined necessary by CDE.

CDE's past endorsement of prudent avoidance continues to form the basis of this guidance while recognizing that in specified circumstances, encroachment into the setback areas may be necessary to provide schools in areas with limited site choices. The proposed guidance acknowledges the scientific uncertainty of the health effects of EMFs, the lack of any state or nationally established standard for EMF exposure, and the PUC's recently reconfirmed reliance upon no/low-cost measures targeted to only reduce fields from new power transmission lines.

LEAs may be faced with seeking alternative school sites that, by strict adherence to the set-backs, create situations that would be certainly and quantifiably adverse to pupil and staff health versus the uncertain effects of EMF exposure. For example, a district seeking to avoid power transmission lines setbacks may instead have to consider sites closer to other hazards, such as major roads, or that would require extensive and long distance busing of students. Both of these circumstances may have known and quantifiable negative health and safety effects.

This guidance also attempts to reflect situations often encountered by districts, but not addressed in the regulations. In certain instances, the setback distance can be measured from the transmission line (at ground level) instead of from the edge of easement, and setback distances have been reduced for underground transmission lines. In addition, the PUC specifies responsibilities of power transmission line owners and operators that are upgrading or locating lines near schools.

Although the CDE guidance addresses 'transmission' lines, districts should also consider the feasibility of decreasing or mitigating exposure from EMF from all sources on any existing or proposed school campus. Best practices information from the DHS, electric utilities, and consultants is available to assist districts in these efforts.

For further information on this issue, please contact the School Facilities Planning Division consultant assigned to the district.

Exemption Process Guidance
  1. Title 5 Setbacks - All Power Transmission Lines Rated 50kV and Above

    Without a CDE approved exemption request, all proposed school sites shall meet at least the following Title 5 Section 14010(c) setbacks as measured from the edge of easement of overhead transmission lines to the usable portions of the school site (including usable joint-use areas, but excluding gross acreage not available for school uses):

    Overhead transmission line easement setbacks
    100 feet for 50-133kV line (interpreted by CDE up to <200kV)
    150 feet for 220-230 kV line
    350 feet for 500-550 kV line

    CDE shall interpret the regulations to provide that for existing underground transmission lines, the setback distance to usable unrestricted portions of the site shall be at least 25% of that stated in the Title 5 setbacks, specifically:

    Underground transmission line easement setbacks
    25 feet for 50-133kV line (interpreted by CDE up to <200kV)
    37.5 feet for 220-230kV line
    87.5 feet for 500-550 kV line

    For existing above ground transmission lines to be under-grounded as a mitigation measure, a setback exemption request is recommended as described in II.
  2. Setback Exemption Requests
    1. Determining the Setback Distances and Point of Measurement
      1. Transmission lines to be under-grounded

        For existing overhead transmission lines rated 50kV and above to be under-grounded as part of a CDE exemption request per section IIB or IIC and in documented measures taken prior to school project occupancy, the setback distance to usable unrestricted portions of the site shall be interpreted by CDE to be 25% of that stated in the Title 5 setbacks as noted in I. Documentation submitted should include the above ground and underground line locations and setback distances.
      2. Measuring from Transmission Lines Instead Edge of Easement

        For setback exemption requests for only measuring setbacks from the transmission line instead of from the edge of its easement, the following process is recommended:

        On a case-by-case basis, CDE shall have the ability to measure the setback from ground level of the closest or highest kilo-voltage transmission line (whichever creates the largest setback onto the site) instead of from the edge of easement, if it can be reasonably determined by CDE, based upon LEA submitted exemption documentation using Utility provided plans and other available information, that it is extremely unlikely that new or relocated overhead transmission lines of at least 50kV would be placed closer to the school within the easement, unless such planned lines would result in a net reduction of magnetic fields on the usable portions of the school site. Documentation should include the easement and line(s) location(s) and setback distances.
    2. Limited Activity Uses - All Power Transmission Lines Rated 50kV and Above

      For setback exemption requests for limited use activities described below, the following process is recommended:
      1. Exemption requests will first explain to CDE's satisfaction why encroachment into the setback area is necessary and address what other site options (if any) are available and how this site and plan compare to them, including other Title 5 standards and other safety and cost complications. Submittal to CDE and CDE approval of this exemption request is recommended prior to LEA submittal of site approval application documentation listed in SFPD form 4.01 (notwithstanding requests for aeronautics review per Education Code Section 17215).
      2. Upon satisfaction of B1, the uses listed below will be allowed by CDE within the Title 5 power line setback distances if committed to in writing by the LEA in a Title 5 exemption request via a site approval request letter, on SFPD form 4.02, and with transmission line limited use setback areas designated on all future SFPD form 4.07 plan submittals:
        1. Staff/visitor/student/joint-use parking
        2. Bus and parent drop-off/loading
        3. Driveways, access roads, sidewalks
        4. Internal vehicular circulation and fire lanes
        5. Landscaping (excluding play and activity fields)
        6. Gross acres that are unusable for school purposes or activities, e.g., retention basins, steep slopes, wetlands, waterways, etc.
        7. Other such similar limited activity uses as determined by CDE on a case-by-case basis, including but not limited to support facilities and plant operations such as warehouses, boiler rooms, etc. that would have only occupancy for infrequent and limited periods of time. Proposed play and activity fields, hardcourts, stadiums, and occupied school buildings including classrooms, restrooms, multipurpose, administration, library, and joint-use facilities are recommended to meet the process specified in section C below.
      3. If also requesting a 25% setback distance from a transmission line to be under-grounded as described in section A1, also submit exemption request documentation confirming the utility's under-grounding actions to be taken.
      4. If also requesting a setback measurement from the power transmission line instead of its easement, also obtain a CDE determination based upon exemption request documentation as described in section A2.
    3. Unrestricted Uses - 50 to under 200kV Power Transmission Lines Only

      For setback exemption requests for 50kV to under 200kV transmission lines for uses other than those limited uses listed in B2 above, the following process is recommended:
      1. Exemption requests will first explain to CDE's satisfaction why encroachment into the setback area is necessary and address what other site options (if any) are available and how this site and plan compare to them, including other Title 5 standards and other safety and cost complications. Submittal to CDE and CDE approval of this justification is recommended prior to LEA submittal of site approval application documentation listed in SFPD form 4.01 (notwithstanding requests for aeronautics review per Education Code Section 17215) or other documentation listed below.
      2. Upon satisfaction of section C1, a Field Management Plan (FMP) should be prepared by a competent professional, as determined by the LEA, and be submitted with the exemption request. The FMP should identify and evaluate options and include:
        1. A site plan layout, including buffer zones and placement of limited activity and lower intensity uses closer to the power lines, that aims for reduction of transmission line EMF exposure to staff and pupils.
        2. Implementation of feasible low and no-cost measures that aim for reduction in the transmission line(s) EMF levels. (For example: evaluation for modification of existing electric utility facilities such as increasing pole height, optimal circuit phasing for multiple circuit lines, use of compact pole top designs, and alternative placement of transmission lines.)

          The LEA may elect to conduct field measurements on the site in order to identify other candidate sources of EMF, such as distribution lines, for consideration of opportunities for low and no-cost reduction or avoidance measures.
        3. An LEA commitment that the site's design plans shall incorporate, as feasible, other EMF best practices or checklist of actions as provided by agencies such as the DPH External link opens in new window or tab. , available at, the DSA and electric utilities, that should include, but is not limited to, addressing under the appropriate regulatory oversight:
          1. Location of distribution lines and internal electrical cables, transformers, and electric service panels; key classrooms with electrical equipment and appliances (such as computers); electrical system and plumbing plans to reduce net currents, use of ground fault interrupters; and audit/quality assurance procedures for compliance with applicable electrical codes such as detection of net currents.
        4. The LEA or their FMP consultant should contact the electric utility early in the process of preparing the FMP and should incorporate into the FMP information regarding any known utility plans and whether existing transmission lines are in compliance with PUC General Order 95-Rules for Overhead Electric Line Construction External link opens in new window or tab..
        5. The LEA exemption request should contain certification of all of the following: i) the exemption request and FMP has been (or will be, prior to CDE granting the exemption) made available for public review and considered at a LEA governing board public hearing (such as but not limited to a hearing conducted pursuant to Education Code Section 17211 and/or for the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and which need not be conducted exclusively on the exemption issue); ii) identifies the LEA accepted FMP recommended measures; iii) that any LEA accepted FMP measures shall be implemented prior to occupancy of affected areas; and iv) that future activities and projects on the site shall be consistent with the FMP, until such time as conditions change eliminating the necessity of the FMP as determined by CDE.
        6. CDE may refer the FMP to other agencies or consultants for their input on the adequacy of the plan in consideration of exemption requests.
        7. LEAs may, but are not required to, submit the FMP for CDE review prior to making it available for LEA public review and hearing.
    4. Proposed Projects on Existing School Sites Within Power Transmission Line Setbacks

      The following is applicable for proposed new construction or modernization projects within transmission line setbacks on existing school sites that are not required to obtain a new CDE site approval.

      As part of the SFPD 4.07 application for new construction and SFPD 4.08 for modernization, LEAs may, as part of their certification of not creating nor significantly exacerbating an existing safety hazard related to transmission lines, utilize the above Guidance and submit documentation if requested by CDE, with the exception that the LEA would not be requesting a Title 5 exemption request.

Flow Chart for Power Line Setback Exemptions (DOC)

Questions:   Michael O'Neill | moneill@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-1463
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