Powerlink could bypass Carmel Valley under plan

A southern route alternative to the Sunrise Powerlink, now considered acceptable by San Diego Gas and Electric, could ensure that the proposed 150-mile power line from Imperial Valley project swerves around Anza Borrego State Park entirely.

In addition to the park being saved from lines, Carmel Valley may also be getting a pass.

According to the final environmental impact report (EIR) released on Oct. 17, the preferred alternatives to the proposed Powerlink project all include upgrades to the coastal link portion, completely eliminating the need for additional lines and towers in Carmel Valley.

Jennifer Briscoe, a SDG&E spokesperson said that staff had been working since March on trying to find a buildable southern alternative, one that wouldn't impact tribal lands.

Now that the final EIR has determined a buildable southern route exists they will accept it as an option, she said.

"The project is more important than any one specific route," Briscoe said. "Now we do have an environmentally superior, buildable southern route that does avoid impacts and achieves all our objectives,"

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will make a decision this week, selecting the Sunrise Powerlink or one of the route alternatives.

"Carmel Valley will be spared if they choose any of the project alternatives," said Laura Copic, a Carmel Valley Community Planning Board member who has followed the project for years. "It's a positive for us."

The proposed plan originally had 13.2 miles of 120 ft. power lines going across Los Peñasquitos Canyon and through the middle of Torrey Hills and Carmel Valley. Instead of adding 50 more poles to the community, the alternatives allow for only substation upgrades that will achieve the same goals.

The system upgrade means no construction and none of the impacts such as visual blight and fire risk.

Decision upcoming

The CPUC's decision will be discussed at their Nov. 7 meeting, according to Andrew Kotch, public information officer. A public review period ends on Nov. 15, and the decision should be made final in December.

The Bureau of Land Management also has a say on Powerlink, as it would cross federally owned land. They are expected to make their final decision in January.

Copic said that thanks should go to the Rancho Peñasquitos Concerned Citizens, a group that had the "foresight and persistence" to hire a transmission expert to examine the coastal link and find a way to meet the same goals in a different way.

The work was incorporated into the alternative routes in the final EIR.

"It's a shame that the public needed to spend their own money up front to invest in a lawyer and expert of their own to achieve this superior result," Copic said.

Gone south

The southern route alternative, known as the Southwest Powerlink (SWPL), is the preferred alternative and the fourth environmentally superior alternative, according to the EIR.

The route is shorter than the proposed Powerlink, running 123 miles total and encourages development of renewable generation in Imperial Valley. While it does avoid Anza Borrego and takes a path along Interstate 8, it still crosses 19.2 miles of National Forest land and has 41 unmitigatable impacts.

Copic said that while the southern route is better than the proposed project, she still feels it is inferior to the in-area all source generation alternative, which features new gas-fired power plants, fossil-fuel fired generation facilities, in-county renewables and only 11 miles of new transmission line.

"I think there's a lot of political pressure to choose a transmission line route," Copic said, noting that the line as proposed is a big moneymaker for SDG&E and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has endorsed it.

Copic believes that SDG&E now saying the southern route is acceptable takes some heat off the CPUC as the alternative accomplishes the same proposed goals while being less impactful.

   
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