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3 Energy Projects Proposed For Rural San Diego County

Three energy projects are proposed for an area of southeastern San Diego County and just across the Mexican border. One would send renewable energy from Mexico to a substation in Boulevard.

Sempra Energy's project called Energia Sierra Juarez includes a transmission line that would cross the border into southeastern San Diego County and connect with the existing Southwest Powerlink transmission line and a new substation proposed by San Diego Gas and Electric.

The project would import renewable energy generated at a proposed wind farm in northern Baja California.

Art Larson with Sempra Energy says only renewable energy would be transmitted via the powerline.

Larson says several permits are pending for the project with Mexico's Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

"You need a Presidential Permit for the one-mile U.S. segment of a three-mile powerline that will ultimately connect the Energia Sierra Juarez project with SDG&E's proposed east county substation," said Larson.

Larson says the project also requires a Major Use Permit from San Diego County for the U.S. portion of the line.

"And the county has indicated that it will rely on the (California) Public Utilities Commission's environmental quality act document in order for the county to make the determination necessary for the issuance of that permit," said Larson.

The first steps to evaluate the environmental aspects of the project come next week with public hearings in Jacumba and Boulevard.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) hearings also consider two other energy projects proposed in the same area: SDG&E's proposed ECO Substation project and the Tule Wind Project proposed by Iberdrola Renewables.

Jennifer Briscoe with SDG&E said the ECO Substation Project is a multifaceted project and includes a new transmission line.

"What it's going to do is strengthen the transmission system by building a state-of-the-art substation, the 500 kv ECO Substation," said Briscoe. "We're also going to rebuild and modernize the 50-year-old Boulevard Substation to both improve service and reliability. And we'll be building a new 138 kv (transmission) line between ECO and Boulevard Substations to provide a backup source of power for the communities of Boulevard, Jacumba and Manzanita."

SDG&E's Sunrise Powerlink transmission line project takes a path through the same area. The Sunrise project has been approved by the CPUC but faces several legal challenges.

David Hogan with the Protect Our Communities Foundation said the region's electricity needs can be met without building large transmission projects.

"There is abundant sunshine and abundant opportunities on rooftops and in parking lots for example to cover these areas with solar panels," said Hogan. "And that's going to provide an excellent renewable energy opportunity right where people live. And we don't have to long-distance transmission infrastructure."

Bob Walker, who lives and works in Boulevard, said energy projects such as the Tule Wind proposal, can bring needed jobs to the rural community.

"The visual aspect is something that concerns me," Walker admits. "But I've thought long and hard about this and you know, we're going to have to bite the bullet. In this economy we've got right now we need more jobs and we definitely need them out in Boulevard too."

The CPUC hearings are Wednesday, January 27 at the Jacumba Highland Center in Jacumba and Thursday, January 28 at the Boulevard Volunteer Fire Department in Boulevard. Both hearings start at 7 p.m.

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