Skip to main content

Listen

Read

Watch

Schedules

Programs

Events

Give

Account

Donation Heart Ribbon

$1 Billion May Be Needed For Lines Tied To Sunrise Powerlink

Audio

The cost to California ratepayers of moving energy through SDG&E's planned $2 billion Sunrise Powerlink project may go up another billion dollars. That's because planners of the state's power grid now say major reinforcements are needed to move energy from the desert to the customer.

The cost to California ratepayers of moving energy through SDG&E's planned 2 billion dollar Sunrise Powerlink project may go up another billion dollars. That's because planners of the state's power grid now say major reinforcements are needed to move energy from the desert to the customer.

Think of the state's electricity network as one giant freeway. It is the sole function of an agency called the California Independent System Operator to make sure electricity on this freeway runs without congestion.

But some say the ISO has failed in its only mission. In 2006, the ISO endorsed SDG&E's Sunrise plan, in part, because it said the project was necessary to meet the state's target of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.

The ISO apparently considered SDG&E's project in isolation. It did not take into account that other utilities like Southern California Edison also had to meet the 33 percent expected target.

"We knew at that point that 33 percent was certainly possible but it hadn't been finalized yet," said the ISO's Gregg Fishman. "Now, we're looking at a mandate to reach 33 percent renewables by the year 2020. And in order to do that, it is going to cost more, there are going to have to be additional transmission projects built."

Going back to the freeway analogy, the billion dollars the ISO says is needed for upgrades would build the equivalent of freeway on-ramps and off-ramps to make sure the power grid doesn't get clogged up. Most of those upgrades would be for lines associated with Sunrise.

But SDG&E's Jim Avery says even without the upgrades, Sunrise could still meet the target.

"Sunrise is fully capable of delivering everything that was promised back in the time of the hearings in 2006, 2007, 2008 and nothing has changed in that area whatsoever."

But local engineer Bill Powers says that's only true if all of the solar projects the ISO is now expecting east of Palm Springs are never built. Powers, who opposes the Sunrise project, says the public should have known about the upgrades in 2006 and would have if the ISO had done its work properly. He says the ISO should have factored in extensive solar development in the desert east of Palm Springs four years ago because this area had already been identified by the state as a major solar development zone.

"The moment the ISO determined that they were going to use California's desire to reach 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 as one of the justifications for the Sunrise Powerlink project, they had an obligation to include all of the renewable energy resources wherever they would be in Southern California that would allow them to reach 33 percent by 2020."

But the ISO's own documents show it did not account for any solar development east of Palm Springs back in 2006. Even though it had endorsed a plan by Southern California Edison to transmit renewable energy a full year before it backed Sunrise.

"Was it reasonable to assume no renewable energy in Riverside County? The word 'assume' takes on different meanings. It's not that we weren't assuming there would be some. It's that those plans, those projects did not yet meet the criteria to be included in the assumptions for Sunrise at that time."

So what renewable projects did the ISO consider back in 2006 outside of Imperial County? Only the Techachipi Project just north of Los Angeles County.

"It's the one renewable energy resource area in Southern California that would have no impact on the Sunrise Powerlink. It's just in a completely different sector of the transmission grid," says Powers.

Powers says it's somewhat deceptive because it gives the impression the ISO did model renewable energy resources when the only one it included was irrelevant to San Diego. And Powers points out it is not the ISO, nor SDG&E who will pick up the tab if the $1 billion in upgrades are built.

"We do. The ratepayers are the ones who ultimately pay that cost. It's spread all over the state but it's a cost we pick up completely. It's not fair at all."

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.