The California Public Utilities Commission proposed two decisions on the Sunrise Powerlink last week, one flat-out denying the application and one approving the line only if it takes an alternate route.
CPUC's goal is to vote on the proposed decisions on Dec. 4.
"This may rank as one of the most complex cases that the commission has," Commissioner Dian M. Grueneich said. "But I think we are now at the finish line."
In January, the Bureau of Land Management will also make a final decision on the project, as they own portions along the suggested route.
A CPUC administrative law judge shot down the proposed 150-mile transmission line, stating that it wasn't needed to meet California's renewable requirements and would result in "extensive" environmental damage and "significant" costs to ratepayers.
However Grueneich argued that the Powerlink does need to be built as it helps focus on their greenhouse gas reduction goals. California's green energy goal is to have 20 percent of their energy generation come from renewable sources by 2010.
"If Sunrise can deliver the Imperial Valley renewables promised by SDG&E," Grueneich said, "we can go a long way toward meeting those goals and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in ratepayer benefits."
Conditions on routes
Grueneich gave her approval with the condition that Powerlink used the Southern Route instead of its proposed route, which crosses 23 miles of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, home to palm groves, flowering cacti, bighorn sheep and golden eagles.
The environmental impact report found that the 123-mile Southern Route along Interstate 8 was environmentally superior as it completely bypasses the park.
This southern alternative also means no additional power lines would be built in Carmel Valley, with only system upgrades made to the 13-mile Coastal Link of the project.
SDG&E had the opportunity to respond to the decisions at a Nov. 7 hearing in San Francisco.
"While we strongly oppose the proposed decision, there are elements of the alternative decision that we support," said Debbie Reed, SDGE spokesperson.
Reed said that SDG&E plans to cooperate with the commission but said they still think the proposed Powerlink is the best solution for California.
Without it, Reed said there could be a "chilling effect" on green energy development in the Imperial Valley, such as wind, solar and geothermal projects that would be used to link to the line.
Consumers network happy
Michael Shames, who started the Utility Consumers Action Network (UCAN) in 1984, has been fighting the Powerlink for the last three years.
"We're very pleased with the proposed decision," Shames said. "Both decisions effectively reject the need and the timing for this project. It's nice that finally the truth got out."
Shames has long believed that the Powerlink is not needed and that alternatives like system upgrades can achieve the same renewable energy goals and reliability without constructing additional lines.
Shames said he is still not in favor of the Southern Route alternative but sees it as a compromise that is at least less environmentally damaging.