‘Gift’ or gaffe?


Reactions vary on impact of Powerlink

On Dec. 18, California Public Utilities Commission voted 4-1 to approve the Sunrise Powerlink’s southern route alternative proposed by President Michael Peevey. He said this decision will make it easier for the 123-mile renewable energy “superhighway” from Imperial Valley to develop without delay and that the line is the best way to reach the state’s goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Commissioner Dian Grueneich, the sole dissenting vote, had an alternate proposed decision on the table that placed restrictions on the route’s approval, requiring SDG&E to use the line for clean, renewable energy.

Grueneich said the commission couldn’t just rely on promises and the “invisible hand” of the renewable market.

“It is ratepayer money,” Grueneich said of the $2 billion line. “We have an obligation to ensure that they will see a return on their investment.”

Grueneich said Peevey’s decision was far too weak in regards to requiring SDG&E to develop renewables and does not include any commitment to ensure specific levels of renewable energy generation.

Peevey said that Grueneich’s proposed conditional restrictions were “heavy-handed” and “unrealistic.” Commissioner Timothy Simon said they were “excessive.” And Commissioner Rachelle Chong said the restrictions would only discourage future green development in Imperial Valley.

“The PUC process is a farce,” said Laura Copic, a member of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board who has been tirelessly fighting the line.

“Now SDG&E has no accountability to use the line for renewables, just the approval to charge ratepayers to build the line and reap the benefits no matter what kind of energy flows over it,” she said.

SDG&E said they plan to begin construction next year with 2012 as an estimated date of completion. Opponents said they are considering a legal appeal.

‘Gift’ or gaffe?

After three years of work and debate, Powerlink opponents felt victory was near when in October, Administrative Law Judge Jean Vieth claimed the line was not needed to meet California’s renewable requirements and would result in extensive environmental damage and significant costs to ratepayers.

But Peevey’s proposed decision came just weeks later.

“Our governor, our mayor and the commissioners were too beholden to the utility to even consider the ruling of the administrative law judge,” Copic said. “That they can now approve a $2 billion project that is not needed with our ratepayer funds when the economy is tanking and people are suffering … is beyond fathomable.”

A crowd of 39 supporters of Peevey’s decision spoke at the San Francisco hearing, including Mayor Jerry Sanders and representatives from various Chambers of Commerces from Orange County to Chula Vista.

Larry Grogan, of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, said the Powerlink would greatly help a community that suffers from a 30 percent unemployment rate and many foreclosures.

Grogan said the Powerlink would help speed up development to tap his region’s resources, provide a future for area children and help fight global warming.

“The best Christmas present for Imperial County: The Sunrise Powerlink,” Grogan said.

SDG&E considered the approval a gift as well.

Debra Reed, president and CEO of SDG&E, said the decision will pave the way toward achieving the state’s aggressive energy policy goals.

“Reliable transmission infrastructure is critically needed to reinforce the region’s electric system,” Reed said. “And to open up green avenues for delivering green energy to our customers.”

Sierra Club vocal

Four supporters of Grueneich’s proposal also spoke at last Thursday’s hearing, mostly affiliated with The Sierra Club. They expressed concern that without restrictions, the line might be used to transport liquefied natural gas from Mexico.

“I can’t believe you’re considering whether to shove this down our throats with or without compliance restrictions,” said Denis Trafecanty, an environmentalist from Santa Ysabel.

Trafecanty said he was shocked that the commissioners ignored three years of meetings and testimony, the “desecration” of the backcountry that the line will bring and the role power lines played in the wildland fires over the last few years.

Trafecanty said the state of California was being “hoodwinked.”

The Sierra Club was able to claim a small victory, in that in selecting the southern route, the originally proposed route through Anza-Borrego State Park was spared.

In addition to sparing Anza-Borrego, the southern route ensures no new power lines in Carmel Valley, only system upgrades.