Powerlink Transmission Heads for 2nd Round

By Published On: August 17, 2007

In spite of growing controversy, San Diego Gas & Electric’s $1.3-$1.4 billion transmission line project is set to undergo a second round of regulatory hearings September 4. The first round was called off last month after the utility revealed it might take a new route for the line, and also change its economic forecasts. In an August 13 ruling, California Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge Steve Weissman scheduled a resumption of the hearings in San Francisco. The hearings may stretch into October, if needed. Weissman’s ruling comes after the California Independent System Operator warned that slippage in the schedule for licensing the line, known as the Sunrise Powerlink, raises service reliability concerns in the utility’s territory. “The CAISO’s reliability analysis shows a resource deficiency beginning in 2010,” wrote grid operator counsel Judith Sanders to CPUC commissioner Dian Gruenich July 31. Sanders also said that if the project is not in service by 2010, cost escalation may erode the line’s economic benefits for ratepayers. The letter came on the heels of a ruling by Grueneich that pushed back the release of the draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (state and federal), originally set for August 3. More time to finish it is needed, she ruled, because in the first round of hearings SDG&E witnesses said the proposed 500 kV line may be rerouted and expanded (Circuit, July 27, 2007). Meanwhile, Nevada Hydro has gained financing to build the competing Lake Elsinore Advanced Pumped Storage Project. The backing makes it feasible to build the project without fully recovering its cost from ratepayers as long as it can line up power supply contracts with utilities, said Chris Wysocki, company spokesperson. Wysocki maintained the $350 million transmission line associated with the hydro project could be built in 18 months, once approved, to bring up to 1,500 MW of new power to SDG&E–compared to the 1,000 MW Sunrise could transport. However, SDG&E witnesses revealed that renewable power developments to meet the utility’s state-mandated 20 percent renewables portfolio standard by 2010 are dependent on its own new line. Prior to that, the commission believed that the renewable power projects would proceed with or without the line. “The new disclosures place the commission in a difficult position,” Grueneich stated. The environmental reports have to cover the potential effects of the line and include the new information revealed by the utility. “I am committed to fully studying alternative routes for the project that avoid or minimize potential significant impacts to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park,” noted Grueneich. SDG&E plans that part of the line would run through the park. State and federal law require the environmental reports to include “connected actions,” which the CPUC deems to be covered by national and state environmental law based on the utility’s new revelations. The commission scheduled the environmental reports to be published by January 2008. As the Sunrise hearings resume, project opponents have scheduled a rock concert fundraiser to fight the transmission line. The three-day event will feature a variety of bands, including Vegetation, The Strikers, and the Sex Rats.

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