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Sunrise Powerlink Would Bring Green Path of Energy to Imperial County

Photo caption:


(Photo: Supporters and opponents of the Sunrise Powerlink project rallied in downtown San Diego before a recent state utilities commission hearing on the proposal. Ed Joyce/KPBS )

The proposed Sunrise Powerlink project would bring renewable energy supplies from the Imperial Valley to San Diego. KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce has more on the potential for Imperial County to become a hotbed for green energy.

San Diego Gas and Electric says the 150-mile electric transmission line would tap into the solar and geothermal energy sources in the Imperial Valley. The power generated from those sources would become electricity for homes and businesses in San Diego and for the state's power grid.

Michael Niggli is the chief operating officer for SDG&E.  He says the Powerlink is the best way to meet a state mandate to get 20 percent of the energy supply from renewable resources within two years.

Niggli says most of those renewable resources are up to 150 miles east of San Diego in the Imperial Valley.

Niggli: The geothermal sources are all located around the Salton Sea, which is sort of in central to northern Imperial County. The solar, when you look at a mass production of solar, essentially out in the desert areas where you get the maximum efficiencies, and Imperial County would be the location. And then thirdly you have wind resources.

But Niggli says those solar, wind and geothermal sources need a connection.

Niggli: There's no way that projects like that can get maximum funding to be completed until they know they can deliver their energy. 

SDG&E has signed contracts for renewable sources including one for geothermal energy generated at a facility near the Salton Sea.

Gary Redfern: We've had the highest unemployment, lowest per capita income, highest poverty rate among those in the state.

That's Gary Redfern. He's the Chairman of the Imperial Valley Joint Chambers of Commerce.

Refern says the chambers haven't taken a formal position on the Powerlink proposal. But he says the energy in Imperial County needs to be tapped.

Redfern: Something needs to be done and rather quickly to increase our ability to move power out of here.

Redfern says developing the Imperial Valley's renewable energy resources would spur economic growth.

Redfern: We're known as a farming area. And the reason that I'm in the organizations that I'm in is because I want to raise the standard of living for the people here. And the way that's done is through economic diversification. I want this area to be known as a green energy mecca.

solar.jpg  Photo: Rendering of proposed solar thermal site. Stirling Energy Systems
  • Stirling Energy Systems wants to build a new solar-thermal site in Imperial County. Stirling's Senior Director for Project Development is John Egan.

    Egan: We plan on hiring up to a thousand people to build these plants. And it'll take about 200 people to run the plants when they're fully built out.  Without the Sunrise Powerlink there's no way we at Stirling Energy Systems can deliver back to San Diego all of our clean power.

    Egan spoke at a recent rally in support of the Powerlink. SDG&E has a contract to buy energy from Stirling's Imperial Valley solar energy plant. The energy would be delivered via the Sunrise Powerlink. 

    But opponents say the project is unnecessary. They claim that sources of renewable energy can be developed within San Diego County. And that Anza-Borrego Desert State Park would be ruined by 130-foot high towers along much of state Route 78.

    Micah Mitrosky is a Conservation Organizer with the Sierra Club of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

    Mitrosky: Sunrise Powerlink is not about renewable energy and it's not about reliability. It's about transporting more fossil fuels, unraveling regional efforts to reduce global warming greenhouse gases. It's about profit for Sempra Energy at the expense of public lands and local communities.

    Mitrosky says there are better alternatives than the powerlink project.

    Mitrosky: Our plan - San Diego Smart Energy 2020 - is a mix of efficiency, renewable energy, upgrading the existing transmission system and addressing, putting public solar voltaic panels on large commercial buildings, the big power users.

    San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob told state public utility commissioners at a recent hearing that she's worried about fire danger in the backcountry areas she represents.

    Jacob: There are cheaper and cleaner ways to keep the lights on in our county. And we've also had a giant firestorm that charred the very path of this proposed line and its alternative routes. A firestorm that started, at least three fires started because of SDG&E power lines.

    The California Public Utilities Commission will decide whether the Sunrise Powerlink will be the connection that taps renewable energy sources in the Imperial Valley.  

    Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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