Sunrise Line Options Outlined in Environmental Reports

By Published On: October 17, 2008

A generation option consisting of one baseload and four peaking plants with fossil fuel-fired distributed generation facilities is the overall environmentally superior option for the proposed Sunrise Powerlink transmission project, according to a newly-released final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement. According to the 10,000-page EIR/EIS, released October 14 by the California Public Utilities Commission in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, of the eight options considered, the one baseload, four gas-fired peaking plants option was deemed the best overall. That does not include a suggested no-project alternative. Among its components are about 800 MW of fossil fuel-fired distributed generation facilities, plus about 200 MW of San Diego County-based wind, solar and biomass/biogas renewable generation. Under this in-county alternative, only 11 miles of new transmission line would have to be built and there would be no effects on state parks or National Forest System lands. However, there would be 150 acres of permanent habitat loss, ground disturbance, and significant impacts to recreation areas and visual resources under the option. It would create 32 significant, unmitigated impacts, according to the EIR/EIS, but gas-fired generation would be concentrated at already disturbed sites and/or undeveloped sites close to existing transmission lines, natural gas pipelines, and reclaimed water sources. By comparison, the next-highest ranked alternative consists of 1,000 MW of wind, solar thermal, solar and biomass/biogas within San Diego County. However, it would cause 34 significant, unmitigated impacts and require 47 miles of new transmission lines, with 1,600 acres of permanent habitat loss, according to the report. The Sunrise Powerlink project is a proposed San Diego Gas & Electric transmission line that–as originally introduced–would traverse 150 miles in San Diego and Imperial counties, from SDG&E’s Imperial Valley Substation near El Centro to SDG&E’s Peñasquitos Substation in coastal San Diego. It is supposed to open up the solar and geothermal rich Imperial Valley area to help meet the county’s future power needs. The final EIR/EIS is informational and doesn’t make a recommendation regarding approval or denial of SDG&E’s proposed project. It is intended to inform the public and CPUC and BLM decision makers, according to the agencies. It will, however, be used by the CPUC and BLM in considering whether to approve the proposed project or any of the alternatives analyzed in the document. Michael Shames, executive director of the non-profit advocacy organization the Utility Consumers’ Action Network, said that the EIR/EIS is flawed. “The EIR didn’t properly address the no-project alternative,” he said. “It had an obligation to consider the no-project alternative that UCAN proposed and it didn’t.” Shames said that the top-ranked alternative in the EIR/EIS isn’t the best choice. But SDG&E spokesperson Jennifer Briscoe countered by saying that no-build is not an option, since the regional grid is already under a good deal of pressure. “It won’t ensure electricity reliability,” she said of the no-build/no-action alternative. “It doesn’t extend access to renewable resources.” Briscoe said that the utility is likely to support the final decision regarding the project, as long as it’s not a no-build option. The CPUC is expected to issue a proposed decision on the project within a few weeks, with a decision on the issue anticipated before the end of the year.

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