In a setback for San Diego Gas & Electric Co.’s controversial transmission line, state regulators Friday ordered that a draft report examining the Sunrise Powerlink’s environmental impacts be expanded to include new information about a Mexico wind power project.
The four-page ruling by California Public Utilities Commissioner Dian Grueneich and Administrative Law Judge Steven Weissman also directs the agency that runs the state power grid to recalculate the economic benefits of Sunrise and project alternatives.
The ruling marked the second time in a year that the finish line for the $1.5 billion project has been pushed back.
The first delay, coming last summer, moved the decision date from January to August. This latest delay pushed the decision back to November.
Grueneich and Weissman said there is a need to add a new section to the draft environmental impact report covering the potential for tapping into wind power through a project called La Rumorosa in Baja California. That alternative is said to be capable of delivering as much electricity as Sunrise, the 150-mile high-voltage power line SDG&E wants to build across the North County backcountry and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Grueneich and Weissman also ordered a revised analysis of the technical feasibility and potential economic benefits of several leading alternatives to Sunrise Powerlink. Besides the wind project, alternatives include a much shorter power line between Camp Pendleton and Lake Elsinore, local natural-gas-fired power plants, a southern route for Sunrise around the state park and blanketing roofs in San Diego County with solar panels.
The commission’s environmental branch and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which teamed up to write the original 7,000-page draft report released in January, are expected to release the revised report July 10.
People will have 45 days to comment. And in October, Weissman is scheduled to make a recommendation based on the new findings.
Then, in late November, the commission would get its first crack at a decision.
“Clearly, we’re disappointed with the CPUC decision,” said Jennifer Briscoe, a spokeswoman for SDG&E.
However, unlike the first delay, which forced the utility to plan for a 2011 opening instead of one in 2010, this one won’t force SDG&E to wait another year, Briscoe said.
Michael Shames, executive director for the San Diego advocacy group Utility Consumers’ Action Network and one of the project’s opponents, suggested the ruling constituted a major setback.
“This is as wild of a regulatory case that I’ve experienced in 25 years of doing this,” Shames said in a telephone interview. “It’s wild in the sense that every time you think this case is going to be put to bed and submitted (to the commission), something else comes up. It’s very unprecedented and it’s huge. It’s a bombshell.”
Opponent Bill Powers, an engineer and activist, welcomed the closer look at La Rumorosa, which would require three miles of 500-kilovolt wires to bring the wind power across the border and use the existing Southwest Powerlink line to move it to the San Diego area.
“If you use the existing infrastructure, it doesn’t impact the environment at all,” Powers said.
By Dave Downey
20 June 2008
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