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Sunrise Powerlink

San Diego Union-Trubune, October 31, 2008

PUC decisions strike double blow to Powerlink
By Greg Gross

SAN DIEGO – The state Public Utilities Commission on Friday struck a double blow against the proposed Sunrise Powerlink electrical transmission line planned by San Diego Gas & Electric, issuing two proposed decisions that either partly or fully oppose the project.

One of the proposed decisions, written by an administrative law judge, denies the application for the 150-mile Sunrise Powerlink altogether, saying the project could significantly raise electric rates and do extensive environmental damage if built, and “is not needed to meet California's current renewable (energy) requirements.”

An alternate proposed decision, written by commissioner Dian M. Grueneich, approves the project but denies SDG&E its preferred northern route. Grueneich argues that Powerlink is needed to meet state goals in reducing greenhouse gases, but the utility should use a southern route through San Diego County that avoids Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and all tribal lands.

The transmission line is proposed from SDG&E's Imperial Valley substation near El Centro to the coast near Del Mar. Ratepayers throughout the state would pick up the $1.5 billion estimated cost.

The full commission is not expected to vote on the two proposed decisions until Dec. 4 at the earliest. The commission will hear comments from interested parties and oral arguments at a public hearing in San Francisco on Nov. 7.

The federal Bureau of Land Management, which owns much of the land along either route, will have its say in January.

Earlier this month, the PUC's final environmental review of the project ranked a southern route winding through East County as “environmentally superior” to the much-criticized route through the park.

However, the report said it would be better for the environment not tobuild the project at all, avoiding the certain damage that huge transmission lines will do to the landscape. Instead, it recommended generating electricity in the county using new power plants and renewable-energy sources, such as solar power.

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state'selectric grid, says another transmission line is needed to connect SanDiego with outside power supplies to ensure reliability.

SDG&E says the line, leading to proposed solar and wind projects in EastCounty, Imperial County and Mexico, will help it meet a state mandate for renewable energy.

Powerlink's advocates and adversaries both celebrated the Friday announcements, but not for the same reasons.

SDG&E released a statement interpreting the Grueneich alternative as support for the project and calling it “a major milestone.”

“We are pleased the decision sponsored by Commissioner Grueneich supports the Sunrise Powerlink and agrees the line is needed to import the renewable energy supplies we need to meet California's greenhouse gas emission reduction and renewable energy goals,” the statement read.

“Additionally, the transmission line route identified in Commissioner Grueneich's decision is one SDG&E supports.”

The utility said it would comment further on the proposed decisions next week.

Meanwhile, the two decisions also were hailed by Michael Shames, executive director of UCAN, the Utility Consumers' Action Network, which opposes the Sunrise Powerlink.

Shames especially liked the ruling by the administrative law judge, “which from what I can tell essentially adopts all of UCAN's arguments,” he said.

“It tears apart SDG&E's media hype and massaging of numbers and reveals that behind the curtain, there's just a salesman pretending to be a wizard,” Shames said.

As for Grueneich's alternative decision, Shames said it “doesn't really dispute what the judge says.”

Shames said he thinks SDG&E will try to get a different PUC commissioner to write a proposed decision more to its liking.

© Copyright 1995-2008 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton