August 11, 2006

Jacob Blasts SDG&E Powerlink as Cal-ISO Endorses Project

By E.A. Barrera

Even as the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) was giving their approval to San Diego Gas and Electric’s massive Sunrise Powerlink project, Supervisor Dianne Jacob continued to denounce the project as unnecessary and too expansive for the unincorporated backcountry of San Diego.

“That the ISO has announced its support of Sunrise in advance of the formal release of the project’s environmental documents flies in the face of the due diligence that taxpayers deserve,” said Jacob. “I continue to believe that the proposal’s size, scope and price tag are unprecedented. The region can and must find a better way to meet its energy needs. In-basin generation must be prioritized instead of furthering our region’s dependence on expensive imported power.”

SDG&E’s proposed 150 mile project would connect the existing Imperial Valley substation near El Centro with one in coastal San Diego. SDG&E plans to build two 230 kV lines connecting the central substation to the existing Sycamore Canyon substation, as well as one new 230 kV line between the Sycamore Canyon substation and the Penasquitos substation. The projected cost of the project is estimated at $1.26 billion and according to SDG&E covers the entire length of the line.

The Sunrise Powerlink project “will be shared by all Cal-ISO customers. SDG&E’s customers’ portion is 10 percent,” noted SDG&E spokesperson Stepha-nie Donovan.  “The Sunrise Powerlink is projected to cut overall energy costs for SDG&E customers by more than $100 million per year by reducing the company’s reliance on older, less-efficient local power plants and offering access to competitively priced power outside the county.”

The project must be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) before it can proceed. A decision by the CPUC is expected by the end of the year. Cal-ISO has forecast an electricity shortfall for the San Diego region as soon as 2010, the same year SDG&E believes it can have the Sunrise Powerlink operational. The line is designed to deliver 1,000 megawatts, which SDG&E states can provide enough electricity to supply about 650,000 homes.

“We will run out of transmission by 2010 if nothing is done,” said Dariush Shirmohammadi, the ISOs Director of Transmission Planning for the Southern Region, during a public meeting on July 24 in Kearney Mesa. “We took a look at the economic benefits and the energy benefits and found the program is justified. It solves the reliability problem as to future energy production and helps keep a future energy crises in check.”

But the local chapters of the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and Jacob have called for a full environmental impact report to be conducted prior to any decision by the CPUC. Hundreds of East County residents have turned out at meetings throughout the county to denounce the Powerlink project since it was first proposed in Fall 2005.

Opponents believe the Sunrise Powerlink project will destroy the local quality of life for rural area residents. In constituent remarks Jacob’s office released on August 7, as well as remarks the Supervisor made during an official hearing of the CPUC in Ramona on January 31, Jacob condemned SDG&E and its parent company Sempra Energy, stating that she did not feel the company could be trusted.

“This County was ground zero of the California energy crisis of 2001. Some of the actions of our utility and its parent company have landed before the courts. This sad history causes many to suspect that the utility has ulterior motives for pursing this line, motives other than reliability,” said Jacob. “Before SDG&E destroys a pristine state park, destroys property values and invests in costly imported power, it must examine other options and justify the need. Experts believe that by re-tooling existing plants, our region will move closer to meeting future energy demand. This effort, coupled with solar and conservation projects are far preferable to this costly line.”

The Sierra Club’s opposition is based on guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act of 1972. Under CEQA, a development project must undergo a full environmental study to determine if the project will create a significant environmental burden to the area in question. On August 31, 2000, then CEQA Court Judge Judith McConnell (who now serves on the California 4th Circuit Court of Appeals) rejected a proposal by the County Board of Supervisors to re-zone 191,000 acres of farmland in much of the same backcountry where the proposed SDG&E project would exist. Judge McConnell decided that California law required any major development project or re-zone proposal be preceded by a full EIR.

“An environmental review is an environmental alarm bell whose purpose is to alert the public and its responsible officials to environmental changes before they have reached ecological points of no return,” said McConnell. “The court finds that an environmental review deferred is an environmental review denied.”

The Sierra Club insists that allowing SDG&E to proceed without an EIR would also violate CEQA’s provision that environmental concerns play a “co-equal” part in any development decision.

“If the Commission issues a decision on purpose and need before completing an EIR, it would foreclose its ability to use the EIR to choose an alternative way of meeting the same need, its ability to consider a rulemaking to plan for orderly transmission line development in southern California, as well as its ability to disapprove the Project because it will already have committed itself to the Project,” said San Diego Sierra Club President Paul Blackburn.

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