July 15, 2008

Despite Changes to San Diego-Area Powerlink, Utilities Panel Holds Ground

By Dean Calbreath, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Jul. 12--Despite some changes to the route of the proposed Sunrise Powerlink, analysts at the California Public Utilities Commission have not changed their opinion about the controversial line, according to an environmental study released yesterday.

The revised environmental report includes an evaluation of wind power that San Diego Gas & Electric hopes to tap in northern Baja California as well as more than a dozen changes being considered for Sunrise, a proposed $1.5 billion, 150-mile power line that would stretch from the Imperial Valley to Rancho Penasquitos.

In the end, the analysts repeated findings from the first draft of the report, namely that there are five "environmentally superior" alternatives to the SDG&E proposal, including proposals to generate power within San Diego County or to build alternate lines that would -- unlike Sunrise -- avoid Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

"They've considered all the different elements and haven't changed their minds on anything, which is not surprising," said Michael Shames, a critic of the Sunrise project who heads San Diego's Utility Consumers' Action Network.

SDG&E spokeswoman Christy Heiser said that the biggest effect of the revised environmental report is that it has delayed the timetable for getting a decision on Sunrise by another month.

"This latest delay now guarantees that the Sunrise Powerlink application will not be resolved three full years after SDG&E initially filed its application in December 2005," Heiser said.

The revised environmental impact report took into account SDG&E's estimate that 1,250 megawatts of electricity can be generated from wind power in the La Rumorosa area east of Tecate, rather than the calculation of 250 megawatts in the draft report.

The environmental analysis team also reviewed 13 proposed changes to the power line, which has drawn fire from environmentalists because of its proposed route through Anza-Borrego.

Under one proposed change, SDG&E would change the underground route of the power line around Santa Ysabel Mission partly to reduce potential impacts to the human remains in the mission's cemetery. The proposed change would, however, temporarily disrupt private grazing lands in the area.

Another proposed revision would add nearly a third of the mile to the length of the power line in Imperial County, which would avoid a Caltrans-owned biological preserve but would have a slightly higher impact on desert vegetation elsewhere. The proposed line would run along private property boundaries for about two miles.

A separate change would shift the power line farther from residences in upper Grapevine Canyon. But none of the changes had a major impact on the project.

"I didn't anticipate they would be doing any reranking of the alternatives to Powerlink," said Bill Powers, an environmental activist and engineering consultant who is a leading opponent of the proposal.


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