Governor quietly backed Sunrise Powerlink in December
An advisory panel said Friday the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line is consistent with two key energy goals: boosting reliance on green electricity sources such as the sun and wind and increasing the ability to import power.
The San Diego Association of Governments’ Regional Planning Committee, composed of a half-dozen city and county officials, voted 4-1 to adopt that advisory conclusion after it was suggested by Escondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler, who supports the proposed $1.3 billion power line.
The “no” vote was cast by San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, who opposes the project.
“I am not about to, in any way, shape or form, endorse Sunrise,” said Slater-Price, who represents the North County coast, Escondido and Rancho Bernardo on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
The panel’s vote has no bearing on the fate of San Diego Gas & Electric Co.’s power line. The decision on whether it will go forward will be made by a state regulatory body, the California Public Utilities Commission.
But the utility has been seeking the endorsement of the association’s governing board, which represents all 18 area cities and the county government. The board asked both the Regional Planning Committee and its Energy Working Group, which advises it on energy issues, to analyze the project.
The board is to consider the committees’ conclusion March 28.
The Sunrise Powerlink would string high-voltage wires from metal lattice towers as tall as 160 feet for 140 miles between El Centro and Carmel Valley. An additional 10 miles of wires would be buried underground. The line would run through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Ramona and Rancho Penasquitos.
In a related development Friday, project supporters announced that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had endorsed the line late last year.
Without the traditional fanfare that normally accompanies the governor’s endorsement of high-profile projects, Schwarzenegger, on Dec. 3, 2007, sent a one-page letter to the California Public Utilities Commission backing the line.
“We have already established ourselves as a world leader in renewable resources, propelled in part by our recognition that environmental innovation and economic prosperity really can go hand in hand,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “The Sunrise Powerlink stands to take that relationship one step further by providing direct access to clean, renewable energy sources ranging from wind to geothermal, plus connecting the San Diego region to what could become the largest solar energy facility in the world.”
The letter was penned a month before a 7,000-page environmental impact report found five alternative projects would exact a lighter toll on the environment and still meet the county’s needs.
The letter came a little more than a year after the governor’s Democratic opponent in the November 2006 election —- Phil Angelides —- opposed the power line on the grounds it would harm Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Schwarzenegger said then, through his staff, that he would remain neutral for the time being.
On Friday, while the planning committee took a position on consistency with two Regional Energy Strategy goals, the panel did not take a stance on a more politically sensitive question. That centered on whether the power line is consistent with the overall thrust of the strategy.
The other association advisory committee —- the Energy Working Group —- concluded last week the line is not consistent with the strategy as a whole. That panel is composed of a few local politicians, but mostly of industry representatives, environmentalists, energy experts and academics.
The energy group found that Sunrise would boost transmission capacity and increase the region’s use of green power, but get in the way of other goals.
A central theme of the strategy, adopted in 2003 in the wake of California’s 2000-01 electricity crisis, was to wean San Diego County off imported power. Reflecting that theme, one of five strategy goals called for securing 65 percent of the region’s electricity from within the county by 2010 and 75 percent by 2020.
The local emphasis also was seen in the goal calling for more use of green energy. The goal asked for half the green power to come from within the county.
Energy committee members said the Sunrise Powerlink would do the opposite —- lead to greater reliance on electricity imported from Imperial County and Arizona —- and discourage development of local green power such as backcountry wind turbines and solar panels on urban rooftops.
Solana Beach City Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, an alternate-planning committee member who took part in the discussion but could not vote, said she agreed the line could interfere with the overall strategy.
“What I’m saying is, if we fill up on potatoes, there may not be room for the rest of the meal,” Heebner said.
By Dave Downey
8 March 2008
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