Sunrise: Ready, Set, Go

By Published On: June 15, 2012

The $1.88 billion Sunrise Powerlink transmission facility is ready to go live, according to San Diego Gas & Electric. A SDG&E spokesperson anticipates the online date to be the weekend of June 16-17. The California Independent System Operator stated that the transmission line and the associated Barre substation are to be “released for commercial service” on June 17, according to spokesperson Steven Greenlee. The grid operator concluded the line can move into commercial operations now that it’s conducted due diligence, confirmed data on the project are adequate, and performed engineering tests, he added. At onset, the line is able to “bring in about 800 MW,” noted utility spokesperson Jennifer Ramp. But that much power won’t flow over the line. At least not right away. The utility has contracts for 1,000 MW from eight renewable energy developments in Imperial County to be carried on the transmission line to load centers in the San Diego area, according to Ramp. None of those solar and wind developments are ready to produce power, though, when the switch is thrown on Sunrise. Some are expected to be on line next year, she explained. Meanwhile, the grid operator can use the new high voltage line for ancillary services, like relieving transmission congestion from other lines. Sunrise has suffered repeated setbacks since the California Public Utilities Commission approved it in December 2008. At the time, the utility hoped to have the project online in 2010. The delays came from lawsuits, construction problems, and safety concerns. In 2011, for instance, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted using helicopters to plant towers due to safety concerns. The utility was fined $920,000 by the commission in 2009 for supplying regulators with “misleading” information on the project. Mostly, though, the 117-mile long project has been a flashpoint for environmental concerns. Environmental groups like Protect Our Communities Foundation and Backcountry Against Dumps litigated. In several court cases, environmentalists alleged Sunrise violated the Endangered Species Act, the United States Forest Service’s Land & Resource Plan, and the National Historic Preservation Act. Although the Bureau of Land Management required footprint changes where it traverses federal land to reduce ground disturbance, none of the legal environmental challenges prevailed. In one last-ditch effort to stop the line, Protect Our Communities appeared at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena requesting a preliminary injunction against the transmission corridor June 7. The court entertained oral arguments, but had made no decision as of press time. Protect Our Communities Foundation v. U.S. Department of Agriculture plaintiff attorney Stephen Volker argued that when the route for the line changed, there was insufficient public and environmental review. The attorney for the parent agency of the U.S. Forest Service responded the route was changed to mitigate environmental concerns. Part of the transmission line is on public Forest Service territory. The route is “30 miles shorter and has far fewer impacts,” said SDG&E attorney Janice Schneider. She added that the utility is probably going to file for a “mootness motion” this week. This was the sixth injunction request against the facility, according to the utility.

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