SDG&E Bets Renewables Quotient on Far-Away Tehachapi Winds

By Published On: December 13, 2003

While announcing a big leap in the amount of renewable energy in its portfolio?from near zero to 8 percent?San Diego Gas & Electric may find reaching a total of 20 percent in 14 years more difficult than anticipated because of transmission constraints and lack of local resources. SDG&E said this week it has signed up about 7 percent of its total load to be served by renewable power. It sought approval for another 1 percent from the California Public Utilities Commission at the beginning of this month. Nearly all of SDG&E?s renewable supplies rest on wind energy blowing in the Tehachapis?an area northeast of the Los Angeles basin and about 200 miles from San Diego. ?To access any major renewable resource outside the San Diego area, transmission will need to be resolved,? said Nancy Rader, California Wind Energy Association executive director. ?We have asked for in-basin projects,? said SDG&E spokesperson Ed Van Herik in reference to new generation within the San Diego area. The flow of renewables from outside San Diego is also being hampered by ?a transmission squeeze because of Valley-Rainbow,? he added. Valley-Rainbow was a proposed transmission project that was denied by the CPUC. The utility hoped to run power lines through Temecula in Riverside County but ran into trouble?and not only with the commission. The federal government refused to run power lines through a designated wilderness area, and the Pechanga Indian tribes would not agree to have lines strung across their reservation. SDG&E hopes that its two in-basin fossil-fueled plants?Palomar, which it wants to buy outright from its affiliate, and Otay Mesa, for which it wants to contract with Calpine for its output?will free up incoming transmission for long-distance green power projects such as those in the Tehachapis. ?We?re ahead now? on the required renewables content, which gives the utility ?some room to shop for favorable deals,? said Van Herik. Only one contract, for 25 MW, will begin this year. Electrons from the balance of the wind part of its portfolio, 150 MW, will not begin flowing until next year. The two wind projects slated for late this year are those of PacifiCorp Power Marketing?a contract for 15 years for 23 MW of new wind power and another for 2 MW of existing wind power. SDG&E has two more 15-year contracts beginning next year?one from Oasis Power Partners for 60 MW of new wind power and one from Energy Unlimited for a new project for 17 MW. Alta Mesa is set to provide 40 MW for 10 years with a new project beginning late next year. Another 16 MW of wind energy has been contracted, but details are unavailable. Waste-to-energy, in the form of biogas, is supposed to supply 32 MW. Two projects are landfill, one is at San Diego?s wastewater plant, and two others are unspecified. Finally, a biomass plant developed by AES began sending 49 MW to the utility?s grid under a five-year contract beginning earlier this year. SDG&E said another 40 MW of biomass was procured in a long-term resource plan sent to the California Public Utilities Commission earlier this month. Current state mandate calls for increasing the renewables part of a utility?s electricity portfolio by 1 percent per year, up to 20 percent by 2017. The interagency Energy Action Plan promoted by the CPUC, the California Power Authority, and the California Energy Commission promotes accelerating the goal of a 20 percent total to 2010. In related renewables news, the CPUC last week approved Pacific Gas & Electric contracts for 44 MW of biomass, primarily from the Central Valley. The plants had been selling to the Department of Water Resources but their contracts expired in June. These renewables contracts account for only 0.5 percent of PG&E?s average load.

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