B.C.-to-PG&E Undersea Line Raises Hackles

By Published On: December 15, 2006

Pacific Gas & Electric recently requested special approval to use $14 million of ratepayer money to study the feasibility of an undersea DC transmission line running from British Columbia to Northern California. The proposal has an environmental group and consumer advocate up in arms. The Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology urged the California Public Utilities Commission to reject the funding request on grounds that the project would interfere with the growth of in-state renewables and circumvent established renewables portfolio and long-term procurement processes. “Multiple studies have been conducted to document the known, renewables-rich resource areas in California, and the needed transmission infrastructure to access those areas,” wrote CEERT attorney Sara Steck Myers in a December 8 brief. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates also weighed in. “The commission should refrain from authorizing the exploration of renewable resources prematurely and in a random manner,” it states in its argument. It wants more proof that PG&E has adequately researched in-state renewables options. PG&E stated in its brief, also filed December 8, that the study will allow it to access “a promising possible source for significant amounts of electricity from renewable resources.” CEERT and the Division of Ratepayer Advocates take issue with the claim that the project may be needed to satisfy the utility’s renewables mandate. “If PG&E believes that the B.C. renewables generation is the key to meeting its [renewables portfolio standard] goals, then it is incumbent upon PG&E to introduce legislation to achieve that end, subject to the review of all affected stakeholders . . . as part of our recognized democratic process,” according to Myers. Renewables advocates have worked for years to get transmission lines hooked up to wind projects in California’s Tehachapi Mountains, which sit in Southern California Edison territory. In addition, four years and tremendous resources have been expended on the development of rules to implement the state’s complex renewables portfolio standard law. Division of Ratepayer Advocates attorney Regina DeAngelis also noted that if the proposed study has merit, a government agency may be better suited to conduct an independent and comprehensive study. The line aimed at tapping into Canadian wind would run 650 miles and is expected to have a 1,600 MW capacity. West Coast public utility commissioners mentioned the undersea cable plan during a December 1 joint meeting. They did not discuss it publicly. “Probably because it’s a wild idea. It’s unlikely,” explained Dick Byers, energy adviser to Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission chair Mark Sidran. Developer Sea Breeze Power and PG&E agreed to explore the cable transmission line a year ago. The line would lie on the ocean floor, using technology much like fiber optics, according to Resja Campfens, Sea Breeze Power vice-president of environmental affairs. “Offshore cable is a good way to avoid stakeholder issues. There are minimal environmental impacts,” Campfens said. PG&E allowed its memorandum of understanding with Sea Breeze to lapse in October in favor of a Western Electricity Coordinating Council planning review process, according to Campfens. While PG&E is pursuing the $14 million to explore the feasibility of the submarine line, Sea Breeze is continuing on its own. – Elizabeth McCarthy & J.A. Savage

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