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Sunrise Powerlink

Sun shouldn't rise on SDG&E proposal

, originally printed in the North County Times.

Would you pay $1.4 billion for a manual typewriter that's advertised as a supercomputer?

That's what San Diego Gas & Electric Co. is asking San Diegans to do with its proposed construction of the approximately 130-mile-long Sunrise Powerlink transmission line from the Imperial Valley desert to coastal North San Diego County. Instead of exploring a 21st-century energy solution, the company would return us to the Dark Ages when giant industrial projects were rubber-stamped without regard for people and nature.

SDG&E's new transmission line would cut like a knife through the heart of San Diego's last best natural places. The serenity and sweeping, untouched landscapes of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park would be violated. Its special, rare animals such as the peninsular bighorn sheep and golden eagle would be threatened, its sublime quiet marred by the line's soulless, crackling buzz.

More than just Anza-Borrego would be harmed. The delicate beauty of San Diego's backcountry from Ranchita through Ramona would be broken as pines gave way to metal pylons and sunsets were obscured by substations.

Our communities and families are also at risk. It's a sad irony that much of the Powerlink follows the path of the devastating Cedar fire of 2003. There is a direct link between transmission lines and increased risk of wildfire. New and improved roads to the line would open remote areas to people who start fires, either deliberately or by accident. Firefighters can't work near live transmission lines, and valuable time is lost with the wait for companies to shut down power. Firefighting aircraft support becomes too dangerous.

Downed power lines in the San Diego backcountry started two of the worst wildfires in California history, the Pines fire of 2002 and the Laguna fire of 1970. The Cedar fire taught us that wildfires in the backcountry can become house fires in the city in a matter of hours.

Property owners have other reasons to fear this project. They could lose their land if the utility company wants to take it to build the Powerlink. At the Ramona Community Working Group meeting on March 20, SDG&E executive David Geier refused to rule out use of eminent domain to seize private land from unwilling sellers.

So why is SDG&E so motivated to carve up our backcountry, to put our property and families at risk? After all, San Diego governments and groups have identified other solutions to ensure electricity reliability. The company's claims that it wants to use the Powerlink to tap solar, wind and geothermal renewable energy in the Imperial Valley also seem hollow given a recent report ranking Sempra, which owns SDG&E, near the bottom of U.S. power companies in activities to reduce global warming and climate change.

A visit to the Imperial Valley Electrical Substation near El Centro can assist in illuminating SDG&E and Sempra's singular scheme. There, three large transmission lines deliver power from Mexico, and another comes from Arizona.

One large transmission line and one smaller line leave the substation for San Diego and Imperial County. Increasing that transmission capacity would allow Sempra to sell for top dollar in San Diego more of the power it generates so cheaply from polluting, fossil-fuel power plants in Mexico and Arizona.

No wonder people all across San Diego County have questioned the need for this transmission line. We remember how we were cheated in the 2001 energy-deregulation circus and aren't inclined to buy SDG&E and Sempra's snake oil today.

We don't have to be fooled again. By raising our voices together ---- to the governor, to the California Public Utilities Commission and to our elected representatives ---- we can get something better.

That something is local power for local people. We will need more education for energy conservation and efficiency, new local power generation and underground lines to distribute that power through our communities. Also needed will be expanded rooftop solar programs to tap San Diego's abundant sunshine and wind-energy facilities in the right places.

All of those added together would provide safe, clean and reliable energy without the medieval mentality of the Powerlink. But SDG&E is unlikely to leave behind willingly its self-serving agenda. Let's work together on our own to ensure that the sun rises on a reasonable alternative energy future.

For more information, please visit www.raasp.org and www.biologicaldiversity.org. For frequent updates on the “Sunrise Powerlink” please visit Sierra Club activist Kelly Fuller’s Blog at www.kdfuller.blogspot.com.

Kelly Fuller is the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club's spokesperson on the Sunrise Powerlink.

David Hogan is director of the Urban Wildlands Program for the Center for Biological Diversity, which works to protect endangered species and wild places from urban development.

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