A decision on the Sunrise Powerlink that was set for the end of summer may now not come until late November as the California Public Utilities Commission has opted to wait. California Public Utilities Commissioner Dian Grueneich and Administrative Law Judge Steven Weissman issued a revised schedule, delaying a final decision on SDG&E's proposed powerlink and ordering re-circulation of portions of the environmental impact report.
During the delay, the commission is also requesting that the California Independent System Operator recalculate the economic benefits of the Powerlink and its alternatives as well as calculate the greenhouse gas emissions impacts for each alternative.
Critics of the proposed $1.5 billion, 150-mile transmission line from Imperial Valley are viewing the delay as a small victory.
"This is an important victory in our battle to secure a clean, renewable energy future for our region," said Micah Mitrosky, a Sierra Club conservation organizer. "With each passing day it's really obvious this is an ill-conceived project."
Also encouraged by the delay was Laura Copic, a member of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board who has been fighting the Powerlink for years.
"The more information the PUC gathers regarding all of these alternatives and their benefits, the better," said Copic. " If the Sunrise Powerlink is the best solution, SDG&E should have nothing to fear from this closer examination."
The line from Imperial Valley would cross through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the Los Penasquitos Canyon and right through Carmel Valley's neighborhood 10. SDG&E has said the powerlink's goal is to provide access to clean, renewable energy, secure the power supply and provide lower costs to consumers, saving them up to $100 million each year in energy costs. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has also endorsed the powerlink.
However, January's draft EIR's finding was that this proposed line doesn't even rank in the top five of project alternatives. It comes in at number six over plans that have fewer impacts on the environment. According to the report, the Sunrise plan has 50 significant, unmitigatable impacts.
Despite those impacts, SDG&E feels that the line is necessary to give San Diego a more reliable energy source and meet the state mandate that requires utilities to obtain 20 percent of their power through renewable energy sources by 2010.
Mitrosky said despite what SDG&E claims, the powerlink is not about saving consumers money or connecting to renewables. She said it's about completing parent company Sempra Energy and SDG&E's fossil fuel corridor, connecting power plants on the Mexican border to markets in Los Angeles.
Mitrosky said Sempra currently owns a liquefied natural gas import terminal on the coast of Mexico. Attempts to build these kinds of terminals on the coasts of Western American states have all been denied as they are seen to have environmental impacts and to be highly explosive.
Mitrosky believes that Sempra will use liquefied natural gas imported overseas from Russia and Indonesia to create electricity at the Mexican terminal, which will then be brought over the border into San Diego and eventually up to Los Angeles.
"Sempra is basically skirting the labor and environmental laws to build the infrastructure in Mexico and then 'green-washing' the public to make it seem like they're carrying renewable energy," Mitrosky said.
SDG&E did not to return a phone call for comment by press time.
Recently, Stirling Energy Systems has proposed a plan to erect a massive solar energy power plant that is said to be an important piece to the Sunrise Powerlink. Stirling's plan would install 30,000 mirrored dishes, each 38 feet tall and 40 feet wide, in the desert near El Centro. The dishes would convert solar energy into electricity to service 500,000 homes in San Diego. It would represent 44 percent of SDG&E's renewable goals.
But Mitrosky called the solar energy plan "a p.r. cover for the Sunrise Powerlink." She said that "in reality the power can be delivered from the existing power line."
Mitrosky said while the Sierra Club applauds the use of solar energy, she fears the public is being duped with a bait and switch. She said she feels the powerlink will never transport renewables, only gas from overseas.
Copic said that the Community Alliance for the Sunrise Powerlink financed by SDG&E is further trying to promote their cause with a flawed "Your Choice" campaign. She said that the campaign leads one to think that the only alternative to the powerlink is five new fossil- fueled power plants in San Diego.
Copic asserts that the power plant alternative is only one of many alternatives in the EIR found to be environmentally superior to the powerlink. Additionally, Copic said that four of the plants in the power plant alternative are small peaker plants, already solicited by SDG&E that are likely to occur with or without the powerlink.
Peakers were determined to be necessary, Copic said, regardless of solar and wind resources, to quickly fill peak demand when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing.
"The other superior alternatives do not involve fossil fuel at all," said Copic, "and do not require a 150-mile extension cord across San Diego and our desert state park to collect solar power that could be produced at half the cost on our own rooftops."
The part of the project that most concerns Carmel Valley is what is called the Coastal Link. The 230-kilovatt link would be 13.6 miles of overhead with an underground segment in the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. The line would essentially follow the dual tower line that is already in place through Carmel Valley. The big lattice towers would stay as is, but the "H" frame tower alongside it would be adjusted. The "H" frame's wooden tower would be replaced with metal and combined into one tower with antennas coming off of it. It would be taller in profile at 120 ft. than what is currently there.
According to the EIR, construction would impact native vegetation and animal habitats, create more noise, affect land bearing Native American human remains and increase the probability of wildfire.
The threat of wildfire to the community is another reason Copic is pleased with the delay. The delay will make it possible to incorporate the findings of Cal Fire's report on last year's wildfires. Downed power lines sparked three of the wildfires and as a result, the city may sue SDG&E.
"Even if Sunrise were approved," Copic said, "one would hope that the utility would be required to incorporate construction changes that would lessen the risk of another fire caused by power lines."
Copic gave the example of possibly undergrounding the line in areas hit by high Santa Ana winds.