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Sunrise Powerlink Project Faces Legal Challenges

Opponents Of Project Say Approval Battle Far From Over


Aired 10/13/09

The route for the proposed Sunrise Powerlink electrical transmission line would cross a national forest and other public lands in southeast San Diego County. While the California Public Utilities Commission has approved it, legal challenges may delay or possibly derail the Sunrise project.

The Sunrise Powerlink route would be visible from many locations around the M...
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Above: The Sunrise Powerlink route would be visible from many locations around the McCain Valley, I-8 and the community of Boulevard.

The proposed route for the Sunrise Powerlink.
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Above: The proposed route for the Sunrise Powerlink.

The route for the proposed Sunrise Powerlink electrical transmission line would cross a national forest and other public lands in southeast San Diego County. While the California Public Utilities Commission has approved it, legal challenges may delay or possibly derail the Sunrise project.

Donna Tisdale has lived on the ranch she shares with her husband in Boulevard for more than 30 years.

The community is about 4,000 feet above sea level and is surrounded by a national forest, campgrounds and views of mountains and valleys.

As she drove us around the McCain Valley, Tisdale said she's worried the proposed Sunrise Powerlink is going to spoil the view and open the backcountry to more energy projects, including electrical substations and windfarms.

"I was born in Imperial Valley and raised in Imperial Valley and I've just known open views all my life and they just are just so important," Tisdale said. "Scenic vistas are actually a resource that the federal government is required to protect by law."

Tisdale is the secretary of the Protect Our Communities Foundation. She wants to keep the Sunrise Powerlink out of the backcountry.

"Once you allow certain developments that don't really fit in the community that are non-rural, that are urban or suburban in nature, that's the beginning of the end," Tisdale said. "And people move here for the quality of life, to be close to nature, to be left alone and that's what we're trying to protect."

The route for the project, as approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, would cross through parts of the Cleveland National Forest and Bureau of Land Management property.

Michael Shames is the executive director of the Utility Consumers Action Network in San Diego. He's filed two lawsuits challenging the project. One was filed jointly with the Center For Biological Diversity in the California Supreme Court.

"To review whether the California Public Utilities Commission had effectively applied the environmental protection laws of the State of California," Shames said. "And only the Supreme Court can review a challenge to an agency that implemented these rules."

Shames says UCAN has also filed a petition with the Court of Appeals in San Diego.

"We're asking that court to review whether the Public Utilities Commission followed the state law that requires them to consider alternatives, economically-feasible alternatives, to transmission lines," Shames says.

Shames and other opponents claim alternatives, like rooftop solar, could provide the same electric resource without the environmental degradation they fear from the Sunrise Powerlink.

The U.S. Forest Service has yet to decide whether the Sunrise Powerlink will be permitted in the Cleveland National Forest. Anabele Cornejo with the Cleveland National Forest says the federal agency is still reviewing the BLM's Environmental Impact Study and documents provided by San Diego Gas and Electric.

She said the process will take at least three months.

David Hogan, who is with the Protect Our Communities Foundation, said the Sunrise Powerlink is not a done deal.

"There's still a big fight over the project," Hogan said. "There are still incredibly large permitting hurdles that SDG&E has to get through to get the project approved. For example, the Cleveland National Forest hasn't yet given permission for the project to cross 20 miles of the Cleveland National Forest."

Hogan said the Protect Our Communities Foundation has filed an appeal challenging the Bureau of Land Management's approval of the project.

He said, if necessary, the group is prepared to file a lawsuit in federal court challenging the BLM's decision.

Jennifer Briscoe, who is with SDG&E said the utility doesn't expect the legal challenges to change the construction timeline.

"We're confident that the Sunrise Powerlink project with prevail," Briscoe said. "We set a date of construction starting mid-June 2010. And we're well on target to meet that goal."

As we stop on an overlook off a dirt road in the McCain Valley, Donna Tisdale marvels at the wilderness around her.

"You can hear how quiet it is," Tisdale said. "You can come out here and commune with nature and restore your soul. I do it as often as I can. But I won't come out here anymore once it's destroyed."

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Avatar for user 'gu4u2'

gu4u2 | November 18, 2009 at 9:16 a.m. ― 7 years, 4 months ago

What a selfish farmer. Can you imagine if everyone required a limitless vista around their house? There is a lot of potential for sun and wind-generated power in the east part of the state. The problem is that people like this farmer will never let the power flow to the populated coastal areas. There are always excuses, sheep preservation, etc. Meanwhile, people on the coast burn fuel right in their backyard to generate power (Chula Vista and Oceanside power plants). Shame on KPBS for not even touching the other side of the issue regarding the pressing need to change the way we generate and distribute power. If solar and wind generation will ever be a reality in a substantial way, we need a much better power distribution system whether you like it or not. That means a lot more power lines. If this balanced account was presented to listeners, they could make their choice in a more grounded way. Instead, all I hear is how this power line is going to negatively affect everybody, including the farmer who will have her vista blemished. Worse of all, the same folks that are vehemently against these projects, are the ones that ask themselves why we are addicted to oil. We are not addicted to oil. Everyone would like to stop burning fossil fuels, but people need a choice. This choice will not come priceless - that blemished vista is part of the cost.

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Avatar for user 'backcountrylover'

backcountrylover | November 18, 2009 at 11:06 a.m. ― 7 years, 4 months ago

Wow ! - Sounds like Gu4u2 works for Sempra/SDG&E, singing the Company line...
Inspite of the condescending tone regarding Tisdale, there was one accurate statement made. " we need to change the way we generate and distribute power"
we have the distribution means in place with the existing network. how many more power lines do you want to see ?. I'd like to be able to go someplace in this county and not see giant infrastructure. what we DO need is the mindset to change, in that it possible to generate substantial amounts of energy right here in our back yard with PV (photovoltaic) and in some areas wind. my neighbor just put up a small wind generator and I will glady look at that vs. the thought of a giant " T-line" running through my view. the potential efficency of most homes and the new generation of appliances and lighting can substantially offset this outdated thinking that we need more, more, more... I am all for solar and wind projects, but do not want to see our Backcountry Bulldozed. remember that the proponets of these projects are the ones who tell us our lights are going to go out, yet wanted to string an extension cord to up Orange County from the northern route, before the PUC denied that route. (transmission capacity=profit). Local "in basin" generation is the way to go. make our existing powerplants more effecient and small "Peaker" plants locally, are the answer. after all it gets dark everywhere - whether it's the desert or here.

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Avatar for user 'gene'

gene | February 17, 2010 at 8:50 p.m. ― 7 years, 1 month ago

it's real easy, if they can put it underground in alpine, they can go underground in Boulevard. and if the people on the west side of the mountain like windmills, and solar so much, line the coast with them, there they will blend in with the rest of the clutter. there's a reason we live out here, and we don't want it ruined for the profit of sdg&e and sempre.

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Avatar for user 'LauraPsi7'

LauraPsi7 | February 17, 2010 at 10:48 p.m. ― 7 years, 1 month ago

Characterizing this as an issue strictly about pristine vistas versus the need for energy shows a real lack of understanding of this project and its impacts. For one, we live in one of the most fire prone areas of the world (a fact that is noted in the EIR) and this project will significantly increase the likelihood of catastrophic firestorms (another non disputed fact from the EIR). That is not a minor point. That is HUGE. You are advocating for a project that will knowingly cause economic and environmental destruction to a large part of San Diego ..not just those near the line, but everyone down stream. The EIR is pretty clear that we are in for major firestorms as a direct result of this project if it is built. Please do not trivialize it as being about simply vistas. If your way of thinking prevails, lives will be lost.

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