Hearings on San Diego Gas & Electric’s planned Sunrise Powerlink energy transmission superhighway moved into their third week, with officials from various energy-related entities weighing in on the merits–or lack thereof–of the transmission line. Utility Consumers’ Action Network continued to hammer SDG&E and other proponents on the actual necessity for the project. They maintain that other upgrades and smaller capital investments can do the trick. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates has stated that SDG&E likely overstates the project’s energy benefits, and that those benefits are small relative to the project’s estimated $1.4 billion cost. Despite the opposition though, the potential of SDG&E getting the planned 150-mile project approved and built took a major leap forward this week when the U.S. Department of Energy designated San Diego County as part of an electric transmission-need region. DOE included Southern California in a federal transmission corridor. If the state denies SDG&E’s request to build the line, the DOE position backs federal “backstop authority” that would send the proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC is seen as less interested in the environmental and local issues in transmission siting than the California Public Utilities Commission. The 10-county region electric transmission corridor designated by the Energy Department on October 2 encompasses much of the southwestern U.S., from Kern County, California, all the way south to San Diego, and east just past Phoenix, Arizona. In other Powerlink project news, two environmental groups have filed a motion with the CPUC, saying that there is conflicting information in filings by SDG&E for Sunrise Powerlink transmission line permitting proceedings. In the motion, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club allege to the CPUC that SDG&E has downplayed the connection between specific renewable energy projects and the Sunrise Powerlink project in filings where the company seeks to limit environmental review and swiftly expedite permitting for the line. In a statement, Center for Biological Diversity conservation manager David Hogan said that SDG&E “is talking out of both sides of its mouth.” It asserted that the utility “spins one argument to reduce disclosure of the environmental impacts and speed up approval of the Sunrise Powerlink. Then it spins another to bully the state into approving the Powerlink.” The hearings took place this week at CPUC headquarters and were expected to wrap up October 5.