CPUC Seeks to Bolster Imperial Valley Renewables

By Published On: June 5, 2009

The California Public Utilities Commission attached strings to its approval of San Diego Gas & Electric’s and the other investor-owned utilities’ 2009 renewable procurement plans to ensure wind, geothermal, and solar projects take advantage of San Diego’s Sunrise Powerlink Transmission project. The conditions--unanimously approved June 4--require the utilities to hold an Imperial Valley renewable bidders’ conference to increase the odds that alternative power developers in this economically hard hit region can bring their projects to fruition. The condition aims to highlight “the unique opportunity of Sunrise,” noted the rulemaking. Commissioner Dian Grueneich, who unsuccessfully pushed to require SDG&E to feed renewable power into the Sunrise line as a condition of its permit, welcomed this week’s ruling. “The legal basis for Sunrise was that it would be used for renewables,” she said. Investor-owned utilities’ annual procurement plans detail how they expect to grow their alternative energy portfolios by at least 1 percent. However, the commission’s gives them a three-year window to reach the mandated renewable energy level, currently set at 20 percent of their supplies. The $2 billion high-voltage Sunrise line was permitted on a 4-1 vote last December, with Grueneich dissenting. It is set to run from the low desert in Imperial County to the urban San Diego area. Before last December’s vote, the CPUC stripped a provision that would have required the utility to run a minimum amount of renewable power on the line. However, the commission June 4 directed the utility to assess how the project could tap into potential renewable projects in the Imperial Valley. Regulators also ordered that renewable proposals--in the Imperial Valley in particular--be measured against a standardized project “viability” calculator developed by the commission’s energy division. In addition, utilities were directed to include in the procurement plans expansions to their ownership of renewable projects. Amid the current economy, which makes it increasingly difficult for non-utility developers to borrow money to facilitate renewable projects, utilities have remained a bastion of creditworthiness. Just before the close of this week’s business meeting, which addressed a single energy issue, CPUC president Mike Peevey said this could be regulators’ last meeting in their current space. The CPUC building, located on Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco, is included on the list of state properties up for sale. The governor threatened to sell numerous state properties to help fill in the state’s budget hole. Peevey quipped that commissioner Rachelle Chong put her dibs on the massive state seal hung behind the dais.

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