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SUNRISE POWERLINK

Despite its cheerful-sounding name, the Sunrise Powerlink has decidedly gloomy environmental implications. This controversial, transmission line would run from California’s Imperial Valley desert to the north coastal city of San Diego and would cut through the Cleveland National Forest, as well as through the heart of many other protected parks, preserves, and communities. The project would ravage habitat, contribute to global warming, and even pose a significant threat of wildfire.

The Powerlink would likely be used to import cheap, polluting power from fossil-fuel power plants in Mexico. This means that, besides destroying habitat for imperiled species like the golden eagle, Peninsular bighorn sheep, and Quino checkerspot butterfly, the project would significantly foster global warming by supporting polluting facilities, allowing for evasion of U.S. air-pollution laws, and discouraging renewable energy development. On top of all that, transmission lines are planned for areas with an extremely high fire risk, including a substantial portion of areas burned in the two largest fires in California history: the 2003 Cedar Fire and the 2007 Witch Fire. And not only would the project put people’s property and communities at risk — it would likely result in increased electricity costs for consumers.

Since San Diego Gas first hatched its Powerlink plans, it has done its best to stifle public involvement and evade scrutiny of the Powerlink’s potential impacts. When the company first applied for a permit for the project in late 2005, it asked the California Public Utilities Commission for special treatment that would allow for violation of California environmental laws and commission rules to expedite project approval. More recently, it has tried to play up the Powerlink’s connections to renewable energy projects, insisting that the transmission lines are needed to achieve renewable-energy goals — at the same time downplaying connections with renewables projects when seeking to limit investigations of the project’s environmental consequences.

The Center has worked closely with environmental partners, property owners, and communities and has vigorously engaged in a complex state application process to bring to light the Sunrise Powerlink’s potentially devastating impacts. In January 2006, we filed a formal motion against the company opposing its attempts to sidestep state law to speed up project approval. Since then, we’ve given hearing testimony against the company, written to the Bureau of Land Management and the California Public Utilities Commission and Department of Parks and Recreation in opposition to the project, and even supported a 78-mile protest walk across the California desert. In June 2007 we filed expert testimony showing that Powerlink-related contracts for renewable energy aren’t viable. We and our conservationist allies have won numerous victories against San Diego Gas, including forcing the company to give up its desire to cross Anza-Borrego State Park, and contributing to a state and federal decision to identify local San Diego renewable energy generation as environmentally superior to the company’s desired project. In early November 2008, California’s Public Utilities Commission proposed two decisions opposing the project’s current plan — one entirely denying the project, and one opposing the project’s route through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park — but in the same month, the California Public Utilities Commission’s president bent under pressure from San Diego Gas & Electric and proposed another decision that would green-light the project without a single restriction, and in December a southern route across Cleveland National Forest was approved. The Center has petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the project, and we’ll continue to oppose any route for the Sunrise Powerlink through parks and communities and make every effort to expose the harm it would inflict upon our lands, species, people, and global environment.

Photo © Michael Charters