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San Diego Gas & Electric got a boost today in its push to build the Sunrise Powerlink, a $1.9 billion power line proposed to connect San Diego and Imperial counties.

Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, offered a third alternative for his four fellow commissioners to consider when they discuss the proposal Dec. 18.

Peevey’s proposal would allow SDG&E to build the Powerlink without any condition that the line be required to deliver green energy to San Diego.

The proposal points to a southern route that avoids Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and communities such as Julian and Santa Ysabel. It is now the power line’s most likely path if it receives approval and would parallel the existing Southwest Power Link, the region’s other major high-voltage transmission line, for 36 miles in Imperial County and far eastern San Diego County, turn north near the In-Ko-Pah mountain range, avoid the Campo Indian Reservation, turn south and loop around the Hauser Wilderness, sweeping north again to follow Interstate 8.

SDG&E had previously said the only viable route was one that bisected the park and ran through northern San Diego County.

Peevey’s proposal is a win for SDG&E, which had been battered by the two other decisions proposed to date. When the CPUC discusses whether the power line gets built — they’re the state regulatory agency that decides whether it’s a worthwhile project — they will be able to choose Peevey’s decision or one of the two others.

The decisions issued earlier had pummeled SDG&E’s case for the power line. One proposal, issued by an administrative judge, said the project should be discarded altogether. The other, by Commissioner Dian Grueneich, said the line should be built only if SDG&E agrees to use it to deliver green power to San Diego.

SDG&E has said the line is needed to spur renewable energy development in Imperial County. Grueneich said without a green-energy guarantee, its construction would do more to exacerbate climate change and boost coal-fired power plant development.

Peevey said such a guarantee isn’t needed. “Should SDG&E deviate from the stated purposes of Sunrise — especially with respect to the development of renewable resources — we shall not hesitate to bring forth appropriate sanctions,” Peevey wrote in his 311-page decision.

Peevey wrote that the commission’s existing regulations would be sufficient to encourage renewable development.

But those regulations haven’t done so to date. SDG&E is lagging behind the state’s other two utilities in its efforts to deliver a required 20 percent of its electricity from green sources by 2010 and has admitted it won’t meet that target. It blames the failure on delays in the Sunrise Powerlink’s regulatory approval process.

If SDG&E doesn’t meet those renewable energy goals, it could be subjected to a $25 million annual penalty, though the CPUC has the discretion to not enforce the fine.

So for those keeping score, of the five members of the CPUC, one thinks the line should be built with green-energy conditions, one thinks it should be built without them, and three others are undecided.

ROB DAVIS

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