March 24, 2006
California Energy Markets

Sunrise Powerlink Route Proposed; Will Link with Green Path

By Chris Raphael

San Diego Gas & Electric’s preferred route for the Sunrise Powerlink transmission project would connect to the Imperial Irrigation District’s Green Path project and travel 130 miles to the California coast, passing through a desert park and small towns.

Both SDG&E and IID have their eyes on bringing renewable power from the Imperial Valley into Southern California. Environmental and citizens’ groups, however, continue to criticize the line for its potential to carry fossil-fuel power and for its proposed route through environmentally sensitive areas.

SDG&E’s preferred route would take the line from the Imperial Valley through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and west to the California coast. Under a recently signed memorandum of agreement, SDG&E stated that the Imperial Irrigation District and Citizens Energy Corporation of Boston would construct and own the first portion of the line, a 500 KV segment. That portion of the line, to be known as “IID Green Path Southwest,” would run between the Imperial Valley Substation, near Interstate 8 and the desert town of El Centro, to the Narrows Substation in the Anza-Borrego park.

The line would connect to IID’s existing transmission infrastructure, which is slated for upgrades to access up to 2,000 MW of geothermal power from the Salton Sea area and bring it into Southern California to serve, among others, customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.

The 500 KV portion of the line would then run between the San Felipe Hills and San Ysidro Wilderness Study Areas along State Road 2 to the town of Warner, where SDG&E has proposed to build a new substation.

At Warner, the line would power down to 230 KV, then run about 25 miles into the community of Ramona. Underground options would be considered for some populated areas there, SDG&E said. The 230 KV segment would then travel about 15 miles through existing utility easements in the communities of Scripps Ranch, Rancho Peñasquitos and Torrey Hills. SDG&E is also considering underground options there.

James Avery, SDG&E’s senior vice president, called the selection of a proposed route a “major milestone for the project,” but said the route is “still a work in progress.”

Ratepayer advocacy and citizens’ groups, however, have criticized SDG&E’s applying for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the project without first completing an environmental impact review.

“In designing the proposed route, we have worked with a number of agencies and residents on ways to help reduce the profile of the line, beautify and restore historically sensitive areas and reduce the overall impact on the environment,” Avery said in a news release.

In a March 20 release, David Hogan, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Urban Wildlands Program, said the route “confirms conservationist and communities’ worst fears for impacts to nature and people.”

“SDG&E cynically selected the path of least resistance through the heart of the last best natural landscapes in the county,” he said.

The Sunrise line endeavors to bring 1,000 MW to the Southern California region by 2010—enough energy for about 650,000 homes. SDG&E said power could come from a new solar contract with Stirling Energy Systems to site 600 MW of concentrated solar panels in the Imperial Valley.

Some groups, however, have questioned how much renewable power would travel on the line, and say the “Sunrise” line is a misnomer, as it would more likely carry fossil-fuel power from Mexico and Arizona.

In a news release, Kelly Fuller of the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club said the project would “promote Sempra Energy’s polluting fossil-fuel power plants in Mexico which in turn contribute to global warming, dodge US air pollution laws, and discourage competing renewable- energy development.”

“The line is being built to allow us to meet the state’s mandate for renewable energy,” said SDG&E spokesperson Stephanie Donovan. “We cannot meet our preferred 20 percent by 2010 without [new] transmission.”

Another critic of the project is The Ramona Alliance Against Sunrise Powerlink, which hosted a rally against the line earlier in the week. The alliance has expressed concern that a portion of the line is situated near wildfire-sensitive areas.

In light of the newly proposed route, SDG&E said in a March 21 letter to CPUC member Dian Grueneich that it would amend its application so the commission could issue a decision on the project by 2007. In a March 23 news release, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club said the amendment “may delay or remove the need for an important pending . . . commission decision on the matter of how it will handle the company’s original December 2005 Powerlink application.”

Donovan said that the application would need to be amended to include information about the new route and the memorandum of understanding between IID and SDG&E.

“We are not starting over or refiling,” she said