More than 200 people jammed county offices in downtown San Diego and close to half of them spoke Monday as the California Public Utilities Commission convened three days of public hearings on the Sunrise Powerlink, a 150-mile power line that would run through the North County backcountry.
Opponents of San Diego Gas & Electric Co.’s proposed $1.3 billion project outnumbered supporters two to one. And two prominent county officials – Supervisors Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob – were on opposite ends of the issue.
“There are cleaner and cheaper ways to keep the lights on in our county,” Jacob said.
But Roberts said the line is the best way to bring in affordable, clean power.
The hearing was the first of five this week that followed the January release of a 7,000-page report examining the project’s potential environmental impacts. The commission is expected to decide by late summer whether to grant SDG&E permission to build the line.
Supporters, many of them business leaders, held a rally on the steps of the county administration building, with the waters of San Diego Bay providing a blue backdrop for their green T-shirts that read: “Reduce global warming, support the Sunrise Powerlink.”
The red-hot global warming issue was a central theme, as was California’s state mandate for utilities such as SDG&E to secure 20 percent of their supplies from clean, nonfossil-fuel power by 2010.
Supporters such as San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond argued before the commission that the power line, which would run from El Centro to Carmel Valley and pass the Salton Sea, represents the best chance to meet the state mandate and do something locally about global warming. Energy experts have said the Salton Sea area has the potential to supply a huge amount of power from the sun and underground geysers.
“The renewable energy is out in the desert and we all want to live here on the coast,” Desmond said.
Supporters emphasized that wires through the mountains and desert would be preferable to natural-gas-fired power plants on the coast.
“We reject an alternative that would require fossil-fuel-burning power plants to be built or to remain in San Diego County,” said Ruben Barrales, president and chief executive officer for the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, during the rally.
Inside the building, opponents said a better way to meet the state’s 2010 green-energy deadline would be to install solar panels on rooftops of San Diego County’s largest businesses.
Besides, they said, the October wildfires showed power brought in on wires isn’t as secure as electricity generated locally.
During the fires, both of the region’s major transmission lines – one that runs along the coast and the one that runs east along Interstate 8 to Arizona – were knocked out by wind-fanned flames.
According to utility officials, the lines were moments away from being out at the same time.
“We’ve had two catastrophic fires in the last four years,” said Denis Trafecanty, a distance runner who owns a ranch in Santa Ysabel and strongly opposes the proposed transmission line. “You can put all the power lines you want in the backcountry and they’ll all be down during a fire.”
Laura Copic, a member of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, said the bottom line is “local generation is what kept the lights on during the October wildfires.”
But Reed Vickerman, vice president of corporate operations for Amylin Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, said local green projects, by themselves, can’t generate enough electricity to either meet the region’s growing needs or comply with the state mandate.
Vickerman said his company, as much as anyone, believes in rooftop solar and has installed 6,000 square feet of panels on one of its buildings. But, he said, those panels provide less than 30 percent of that building’s energy needs.
Based on his firm’s experience, Vickerman said, San Diego County needs more than panels – it needs a power line.
SDG&E’s plan to run that line through Anza-Borrego, the nation’s largest state park outside Alaska, was once again a lightning rod.
“It’s everybody’s backyard,” said Joe Raffetto, owner of California Overland Desert Excursions, a concessionaire that provides park tours.
But Steve Kildoo, a kitchen-cabinet designer from San Marcos who lives across the street from a large power line, suggested most opponents don’t want the project simply because they would have to look at it.
“Opposing it because it will go in your backyard is not good enough, because the rest of us who have lived here a while already have this in our backyards,” Kildoo said.
By Dave Downey
26 February 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding