As San Diego Gas & Electric’s proposed Sunrise Powerlink project moves through the regulatory process at the California Public Utilities Commission, local governments in the utility’s service area are preparing to weigh in. On February 5, a subcommittee of the San Diego Association of Governments’ Regional Energy Working Group is set to examine the project and a growing number of possible alternatives, said Brian Holland, a planner for the regional council of governments. The full working group expects to take up the project on February 28. The local government council will consider an alternative, called the most “environmentally friendly,” in a joint CPUC and federal Bureau of Land Management draft environmental analysis issued January 3. It calls for increasing local generation capacity–including adding 300 MW of local solar power–as an alternative to the $1.3 billion Powerlink transmission line. The line, according to SDG&E, would enable it to tap 1,000 MW of renewable energy from the solar and geothermal rich Imperial Valley east of San Diego County. In addition to that and other alternatives outlined in the environmental analysis, the panel is expected to examine another plan outlined by the San Diego Foundation in October in its San Diego Smart Energy 2020 report. It calls for installing up to 2,040 MW of rooftop solar on SDG&E customer premises, plus adding 700 MW of combined heat and power plants in the county. The report further backs an enhanced energy efficiency program, plus upgrades in the utility’s distribution system. While the state is banking on seeing 3,000 MW of new solar capacity statewide by 2016, the San Diego Foundation plan may be too ambitious and expensive, according to David Rohy, California Alliance for Distributed Energy Resources chair. In a paper evaluating the foundation plan, Rohy said that the sudden demand it would create would raise the price of solar panels. The former California Energy Commission member also criticized technical aspects of the proposal. Employing that much solar, he asserts, would require the utility to make “large investments” in its distribution grid to make use of the increase in locally generated power. It further would require using batteries to store excess power for later use, even though such battery technology has yet to be perfected. Rohy added that any plan for San Diego must be balanced, to maintain the “good features” of the centralized utility system, which include “high reliability, public safety, fair and affordable rates, attention to environmental issues, and objective evaluation of alternatives.” In response, the author of the foundation plan said that Rohy missed the mark in his critique, circulated in San Diego shortly before the holidays. “There appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the amount of solar photovoltaic energy proposed in Smart Energy 2020,” said the plan’s author Bill Powers, principal of Powers Engineering. Rather than solar being dominant, as Rohy suggests, the plan envisions that the county would receive either 14 percent or 28 percent of its power from solar by 2020, most of it installed after 2015 in large projects with capacities of 100 kW or more. These large-scale systems, said Powers, are more cost-effective than building and operating new simple-cycle gas plants. Even the cost of combined-cycle natural gas power plants is rising fast, he said, almost doubling in the last four years. Rising natural gas prices could drive the cost of such plants even higher, Powers maintained.