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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

SDG & E; Powering Ahead

With the state Public Utilities Commission’s December approval of its Sunrise Powerlink project, San Diego Gas & Electric is moving forward with plans for a $1.9 billion, 123-mile high-voltage transmission line that would connect solar, wind and geothermal power-generation in East County and the Imperial Valley to regional customers.

According to SDG & E;, the 1,000-megawatt line , enough to power 650,000 homes , is required to meet California’s 20 percent renewable energy mandate by 2010 and 33 percent mandate by 2020.

Today, SDG & E; generates 6 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources.

While the utility has 13-plus percent of the requirement under contract for 2010 and 20-plus percent for 2011, most contracts are dependent on the transmission line being built, says spokeswoman Jennifer Briscoe.

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Once the utility receives a decision from the Bureau of Land Management, expected sometime in the latter part of this month, it hopes to break ground in mid-2010, says Briscoe. It is expected to be completed in 2012.

Renewable Resources

Phoenix-based Stirling Energy Systems has a 20-year agreement with SDG & E; for a solar farm project in Imperial Valley. The first phase includes 12,000 SunCatcher dishes, generating 300 megawatts; the second phase will generate 450 megawatts from 18,000 solar dishes. The goal is to generate 900 megawatts total at the farm.

SES sought certification from the state Energy Commission in June, which was granted in October.

“A pretty big milestone,” says SES Chief Executive Steve Cowman.

He said he hopes to have all approvals by year end and begin construction in 2010. Once under way, the first phase will be finished in two years.

While the line is critical to the overall project, the first phase can be built independent of the project.

SDG & E; has also contracted with MMR Power Solutions to purchase power from its 100-megawatt solar-cell project in the Imperial Valley.

This two-phase project was approved in March 2007 by the PUC, says Briscoe, along with a 20-megawatt geothermal project with Esmeralda San Felipe Geothermal. Another 40-megawatt project with Esmeralda was approved in 2008. Sempra Generation has a 20-year agreement with Southern California Edison for a 250-megawatt wind-power project that is dependent on the completion of Sunrise to begin.

Flip Side

Environmentalists have been fighting the line since it was proposed in 2005. The original route , through the fragile Anza-Borrego Desert State Park , was rejected in favor of a southern course, but many groups still plan to appeal.

Protect Our Communities co-founder Denis Trafecanty said he believes officials ignored facts in the testimony and the recommendation by Administrative Law Judge Jean Vieth to reject the line on the basis that it’s not needed for SDG & E; to meet its renewable energy goals.

“We are going to do everything in our ability to stop it,” Trafecanty said. “We’re hoping that they never get the line in.”

Renewable energy should be where the need is, said Trafecanty, which is in the “basin” or metropolitan areas of San Diego, not Imperial Valley.

“The sun shines in San Diego just as efficiently as out in Imperial Valley,” Trafecanty said.

Mussey Grade Road Alliance spokeswoman Diane Conklin said she worries technological advances in the next five to seven years will make the line obsolete.

“We are locking ourselves in a $2 billion project that is outdated,” said Conklin. “The move away from all of this is happening right in front of us.”

Trafecanty and Conklin cite Southern California Edison’s 250-megawatt solar rooftop project in Riverside. While the first of the proposed 150 commercial buildings has been outfitted with solar panels, the entire project has yet to be approved by the PUC.

Multiple Solutions

Sempra Energy COO Mike Niggli says the industry needs to move forward with renewable energy in each segment, but that the larger the project the lower the cost.

“It becomes more expensive as you reduce the size of the projects,” said Niggli. “The most expensive is generally rooftops.”

David Rohy, adjunct professor in the physics department at San Diego State University and former vice chairman of the Energy Commission, said he believes San Diego needs a balanced electric power supply that includes both the Sunrise Powerlink and smaller-scale projects.

“I believe that solar energy is going to take quite a while to come in,” said Rohy. “It’s quite expensive now. We hope that costs will be lower in the future, but we can’t wait for that future because we don’t have that answer yet.”

The transmission line is the most cost- and time-efficient way SDG & E; is going to meet California’s energy goals, says Rohy.


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