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Report Outlines Area’s Urgent Energy Needs

Report Outlines Area’s Urgent Energy Needs

BY RENE’E BEASLEY JONES

Staff Writer

When it comes to energy, a recently released study says San Diego County has been flying blind , and there’s a bumpy ride ahead.

A consortium of local agencies released a draft of the study last week. It estimates the region’s demand for electricity will nearly double by 2030, creating the need for up to three 500-megawatt power plants in the region during the next 30 years.

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Two of those will be needed by 2010 to replace aging units in the county that are expected to be decommissioned.

As soon as possible, South Bay Power Plant and the Cabrillo facility in Carlsbad need renovation to beef up their capacity and efficiency, the study suggested.

More electric transmission is needed , immediately , to the south. To accommodate future demand, infrastructure to the north and east must follow.

“The region simply cannot afford the ‘business-as-usual,’ ad-hoc approach to market and infrastructure planning,” the report’s executive summary reads. “The high costs to consumers will continue to strain the economic vitality of the region.”

An underlying current of the study: Greater local control of supply and strategic planning.

“Perhaps the most important , and surprising , finding is that we are hardly out of the woods on the energy front,” said Michael Shames, executive director of San Diego-based Utility Consumers’ Action Network. “It finds that this region can be short on energy in just a few years, thus inviting the kind of energy price shocks and reliability problems we sampled in 2000-01.”

Joint Energy Authority

To facilitate future planning, the study recommended forming a joint energy development authority that could co-invest in regional power projects.

Shames believes creating such an agency remains critical to taking the region’s energy future into its own hands.

“We need an entity that is expert and accountable,” he said. “Currently, we have nothing.”

He envisions some type of public entity that would be involved in a series of private-public projects.

“It could serve as a financing vehicle for the promotion of companies to produce their own power and perhaps sell excess back to the grid,” Shames said. “It could finance energy efficiency programs, like San Francisco is doing with its solar initiative.”

Kurt Kammerer, director of programs and operations at the San Diego Regional Energy Office, said a joint energy authority could own transmission lines and power plants.

It could be a self-financing body, using revenues generated by those ventures.

A joint energy authority would likely involve a collection of agencies, Kammerer said, or it might be a public-private group of some kind.

“It all remains to be seen,” he said. “Whether this region even wants to get into that business is still to be seen. Elected officials need to make a decision whether they want to be in (the energy) business.”

Transmission

Besides immediate transmission needs to the south, the study said areas to the north will need more within five years. The east portion of the county will require more transmission capacity by 2020.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. has two transmission projects , Valley Rainbow Interconnect and Mission Miguel , on the drawing board.

In June, a state agency approved the Mission Miguel project, which upgrades existing lines between El Cajon and Mission Valley.

Valley Rainbow fills in a 31-mile gap from a Southern California Edison substation in Riverside County to a new SDG & E; substation near Rainbow in San Diego County.

Although supported by some government and business leaders, the Valley Rainbow project remains controversial.

Shames said the energy report “takes great pains to not support the Valley Rainbow line.”

First, the study emphasizes immediate needs in the south, not north of San Diego, he said.

All options should be considered before the region backs the SDG & E; proposal, Shames said.

“We should be looking for ways of not imposing upon our neighbors in Temecula and Riverside,” he said. “Moreover, there are local generation options that may prove to be more cost-effective.”

SDG & E; did not have access to the recently released study Oct. 2, so company officials could not respond to the report’s findings.

However, company spokesman Ed Van Herik disagreed with Shames’ remarks about the Valley Rainbow project.

“We think the Valley Rainbow Interconnect is vital to our region, and it is needed to meet the demand for energy,” he said.

Distributed Generation, Renewables

San Diego has energy resources at its fingertips, the study said. Energy efficiency, installation of on-site generation and renewable resources can meet between 8 and 23 percent of the projected load growth.

Besides reducing the county’s reliance on imported electricity, developing renewable resources and on-site generation would create jobs.

“For investing as much as $3.6 billion, the community could realize an economic benefit of $17.8 billion,” the executive summary reads. “Thousands of jobs would also be created in the community over a 30-year period.”

Now, in San Diego County, biomass generates about 30 megawatts of electricity. Hydro makes 7 megawatts. Only 1.5 megawatts come from solar, and most of that was installed in the last two years.

One megawatt is enough electricity to power about 1,000 California homes.

The study reports the potential for all renewable resources in San Diego exceeds 150 megawatts by 2006 and 400 megawatts by 2010.

Critics say electricity from renewables cost more than power generated by large plants and transmitted over lines.

It’s hard to counter that argument, said Paul Blevins, chief financial officer of Onsite Energy, a Carlsbad energy service company.

When Onsite includes renewables in projects, it’s often because a client is committed “to the social good,” Blevins said.

It may not offer a cheaper way to provide electricity, but the customer perceives a benefit to society and the environment.

San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp. conducted the study, which was directed by the San Diego Regional Energy Office.

Funding and participation came from the City of San Diego, the county, the San Diego Unified Port District, the San Diego Association of Governments, the San Diego County Water Authority and Utility Consumers’ Action Network.

The study, which was completed in response to the state’s energy crisis, cost nearly $500,000.

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