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Senator opposes cross-border power line; builder opposes senator’s opposition

Imperial County’s state senator is asking the state to take a stand against a cross-border power line that some have said will cost the Valley hundreds of jobs and millions in investment.

State Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, introduced a joint resolution, calling on the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy to reject an application for a transmission tie between Mexico and San Diego County.

Sempra Generation applied for a Presidential Permit to build the Energia Sierra Juarez transmission tie-in line that is expected to bring wind power from Baja California.

Vargas said in a press release that axing the line will prevent some hard hits in Imperial County, like losing $4.5 million in human capital investment. Denying the project will also promote independence from imported oil and uphold California’s labor and environmental standards, he continued.

“We can’t sit back and watch thousands of jobs be outsourced to Mexico while Imperial County is experiencing some of the worst unemployment in the United States,” said Vargas in a statement. “I’m urging our federal government to invest in our local work force.

“Families in Imperial County need these jobs, and we should fight hard to keep them,” he added.

Vargas’ numbers are based on a study released last month by Peter Philips, a University of Utah economics professor. The study says that if the tie-line is approved, it would lose about 600 construction jobs a year for five years, along with other economic impacts, many in Imperial County.

The study the resolution is based on, however, is completely biased, said Sempra Generation External Affairs Director Scott Crider. The report was paid for by labor unions opposed to the project and the “claims (are) completely baseless.”

“It’s a shame that Sen. Vargas would choose the interest of labor unions rather than the interests of Californian who want cleaner energy and a cleaner environment,” Crider said.

The project, which has been in the works since 2007, is just one piece of the energy in the San Diego region, in addition to renewable energy projects planned in Imperial County, he said. San Diego Gas & Electric, Sempra Generations’ sister company, has been signing agreements for renewable energy from the Valley.

Crider added that he’s still confident the federal energy department will “make the right decision” about the power line project based on the facts. It will unlock major wind power in the region, which is in line with cross-border energy movement promoted by both the Mexico and U.S. presidents.

Some locally didn’t see the power line project as a benefit for the whole region.

The tie-in line is a gateway for cheaper power in Mexico, but it won’t promote job growth where it’s needed, Imperial County, said Imperial Irrigation District Director Jim Hanks.

“Every megawatt that’s built over there, we lose one here,” he said.

Once the Valley is at full capacity for renewable energy, Hanks said he wouldn’t have such a problem with the plan, but the purpose of imposing a 30 percent renewable energy requirement statewide is to promote jobs in California, he said.

He added that he’d “much rather see three or four geothermal projects here, rather than windmills” in Baja California.