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Officials Debate Importance of Sunrise Powerlink

Expert testimony continues through the month over a plan to build a high-voltage power line from El Centro to San Diego. A state agency is listening closely to determine whether the Sunrise Powerlink

Officials Debate Importance of Sunrise Powerlink

Expert testimony continues through the month over a plan to build a high-voltage power line from El Centro to San Diego. A state agency is listening closely to determine whether the Sunrise Powerlink project is needed. Doing the listening for us - KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce.

San Diego Gas and Electric needs the approval of the state Public Utilities Commission before it can move forward with a plan to build a 500-kilovolt power line from El Centro to San Diego. The utility's preferred path places transmission towers across two counties, a state park and into suburban San Diego County. Elizabeth Goldstein is with the California State Parks Foundation . She says stringing power lines through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a bad idea.

Goldstein: The facts will show that the Sunrise Powerlink would add untenable burdens of management by potentially degrading and eliminating popular c38grounds creating multiple access points to wilderness areas and areas of archaeological sensitivity.

But SDG&E's Michael Niggli says the line is needed to ensure a reliable supply of energy.

Niggli: This region of San Diego County of over 3-million people is served by only one electric super highway. A 500 kv transmission line that was built nearly 25 years ago. Since that time the region's demand for energy has more than doubled." 

The utility wants to use the power lines to move renewable energy, such as wind and solar, from the Imperial Valley. Jeff Gray is with the California Independent System Operator , which maintains and operates the state's power grid.

Gray: The ISO supports commission approval of the Sunrise project because, on a head-to-head basis, it provides greater net benefits then any of the proposed alternatives.

But Michael Shames with the Utility Consumers Action Network says the Powerlink isn't needed. He says alternative sources including conservation can meet the region's power needs.

Shames: I think ultimately this commission is really going to have to grapple with the question of is this transmission line truly a central, lifeblood artery for the San Diego economy, or is it really just a monument to greed.

Shames calls the hearing process a battle of experts. That battle continues through the month as more than 30 witnesses are questioned in a court-like setting.  The PUC plans to make its decision in January.

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.