By City News Service
Construction officially began Thursday on a 117-mile transmission line that will carry electricity from the Imperial Valley to San Diego, but that critics say will harm the environment.
Sunrise Powerlink was fought for years by back-county residents and environmentalists, who claimed the power line would destroy the character of their mountain communities and be used to import "dirty" energy generated by coal-fired plans in Mexico.
San Diego Gas & Electric says the transmission line will carry "clean" renewable energy from the desert to San Diego and is necessary to keep up with the demand for power, while others say construction will also help spur the state's economic recovery.
A groundbreaking ceremony that included Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was held by the utility at a ranch in the mountains of far eastern San Diego County.
"Today's ceremony marks the culmination of more than five years of study and planning for a transmission line critically needed to increase reliability and help meet our goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020," said Jessie Knight Jr., the chairman and CEO of SDG&E.
Jennifer Ramp, a spokeswoman for SDG&E, said the utility has only signed contracts for renewably generated energy and has made a commitment to the California Public Utilities Commission that the line won't be used to transmit electricity generated by coal.
The company also said a mitigation program that includes the purchase of land for preserves will mitigate any environmental impacts by 45 percent.
The governor said the $1.8 billion project — which will result in as many as 500 construction jobs over the next two years — will play a key role in the state's economic recovery.
"This transmission line opens the door for additional green investments and job creation in the Imperial Valley, while helping us meet our renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals and improving the reliability of our power grid," Schwarzenegger said. "It is these types of big, bold projects California needs to transition to a clean energy future."
When completed in 2012, Sunrise Powerlink will be able to deliver up to 1,000 megawatts of energy to the region, enough to power 650,000 homes, according to SDG&E.
Part of the early work will include a 6.2-mile underground stretch along Alpine Boulevard, according to Ramp.