Regulators next month are set to consider a potentially controversial new substation that San Diego Gas & Electric could use to tap 510 MW of wind energy. Numerous companies are planning wind developments in a mountainous area in the eastern part of that utility\u2019s territory. Critics question its potential redundancy given construction of a nearby transmission line. Federal officials note that the land near the proposed project is ripe for new wind projects. The mountainous region 60 miles east of San Diego gets regular winds that typically blow from west to east, according to Tom Zale, Bureau of Land Management associate field manager, who reviews the energy projects SDG&E\u2019s \u201cEast County Substation Project\u201d\u2014slated for southeastern San Diego County\u2014could serve as a hub for bringing power to market from five separate wind project developments. The area already is home to the Kumeyaay Wind project\u2014which is operated by enXco on Campo Kumeyaay Nation land to supply 50 MW of power to SDG&E. The substation project is distinct from Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, according to SDG&E. That line would run to the north. Instead, the so-called 500 kV \u201cECO\u201d Substation would feed into the existing 500 kV Southwest Powerlink transmission line, which transverses the southern part of SDG&E territory. Sunrise\u2014which is set to be built into the Imperial Valley in Imperial County\u2014would tap renewable energy projects well to the east of the mountainous wind resource area in east San Diego County, noted Bill Powers, independent engineer. The new ECO substation is expected to collect energy from projects that are south and west of Sunrise\u2019s only planned Imperial Valley interconnection facility. Powers said that when the CPUC begins actively weighing the plan, critics are likely to delve into whether the ECO project would be redundant with the Sunrise line, creating more transmission capacity than the utility needs. Local environmental activists, meanwhile, have criticized the project based on its potential ecological impacts in the rural area. The CPUC is set to hold a pre-hearing conference on the ECO project Feb. 7. SDG&E could not be reached for comment on the project. The ECO project would consist of a new substation near the San Diego County border with Imperial County to the east and Mexico to the south, plus a 13-mile long line that would link with the utility\u2019s existing Boulevard substation to the west, which would be upgraded. In addition, SDG&E\u2019s project would include building a line from the ECO substation to Mexico to tap a wind project that Energía Sierra Juárez is developing. The cost of the whole project remains unclear. ECO could interconnect with four wind energy projects planned on the U.S. side of the border in southeastern San Diego County. They include the: -200 MW Tule Wind project, being developed by Iberdrola Renewables, a Spanish company; -160 MW Campo Wind project, being developed by the Campo Tribe; -57.5 MW Manzanita Wind project by the Manzanita Tribe; and -92 MW Jewel Valley Wind project, by the Italian company Enel North America. Tule Wind is furthest along in the planning and permitting process, with a draft environmental analysis that came out Dec. 26, 2010. The Bureau of Land Management and CPUC are planning public meetings on both the Tule and ECO projects over the next two weeks. Final approval could come sometime within the year, according to Zale. Iberdrola spokesperson Paul Copleman said the project potentially could begin producing power by the end of 2012. Meanwhile, Enel plans to test the wind resource in the area for about a year before deciding whether to fully pursue the Jewel Valley project, said Hank Sennot, company spokesperson. SDG&E told the California Public Utilities Commission last year that it would plan to take the output from the Campo Wind project either under a power purchase agreement or by actually buying the facility for its own portfolio. The utility also indicated to the CPUC it likely would take the energy produced by the Manzanita Wind project. Together, the two facilities would have a capacity of 217.5 MW as planned.