March 24, 2006S

San Diego Union Tribune

SDG&E deal may delay PUC ruling on Sunrise line

By Craig D. Rose

San Diego Gas & Electric's effort to win regulatory approval for a new electric transmission line across Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the North County backcountry could be delayed by the utility's announcement of a deal with a competitor.

In a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, the utility said it plans to amend its application for the so-called Sunrise Powerlink to reflect its recent agreement to collaborate on the project with the Imperial Irrigation District and Citizens Energy of Boston.

In its letter to PUC Commissioner Dian Grueneich, who has been assigned the case, SDG&E said it still hoped that the review of the project could be completed by the middle of next year and that it was open to suggestions to keep it on that schedule.

Stephanie Donovan, a spokeswoman for SDG&E, added that the utility expects to file its amendment within the “next few months.”

But a filing that late could upset SDG&E's target of winning approval for the project by 2007, said Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers' Action Network.

“It'll have to be less than that if they want to complete this by mid-2007,” said Shames, who has been involved in PUC proceedings for more than two decades.

SDG&E's initial application for the power line was filed in December. While the application estimated the line would stretch 120 miles, would cost up to $1.4 billion and would likely cross the desert state park, the filing did not offer details on the routing, an omission that sparked a heated dispute.

Opponents, including community groups from Rancho Peñasquitos to Ranchita, as well as the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, said the lack of routing details made the application incomplete. Many filed formal protests with the PUC.

SDG&E has said the commission can assess the need for the new transmission line without the specific routing. The utility has maintained that detailed routing can be reviewed after a need for the line has been determined and that proceeding in this fashion will expedite the review.

David Hogan, a director of the Center for Biological Diversity, which is among the environmental groups opposing the project, said SDG&E's plan to amend its application marked a victory for those who have challenged the utility's initial filing.

“SDG&E saw the writing on the wall and has changed course in response to effective opposition,” Hogan said.

The utility says Sunrise will be needed by 2010 to ensure regional electric reliability and provide access to renewable energy projects expected to be built in Imperial County.

Opponents charge that the line would ruin pristine desert and backcountry landscapes, and that power needs can be met through other projects and greater emphasis on developing renewable energy within the county.