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State Energy Network And Sunrise Powerlink

State Energy Network And Sunrise Powerlink

GLORIA PENNER (Host): The cost to ratepayers of moving energy through SDG&E's planned $2 billion Sunrise Powerlink project may go up another billion dollars. KPBS Reporter Amita Sharma joins me now to explain whether there is blame to be laid and why SDG&E customers could pick up the tab. Hi Amita.

AMITA SHARMA (KPBS Investigative Reporter): Hi, Gloria.

PENNER: So first of all, give us an update. What's going on with Sunrise?

SHARMA: Well, as you know, a year ago the California Public Utilities Commission, the regulators in the business, approved the Sunrise Powerlink Project. There are a couple of legal challenges, and if they are resolved in favor of SDG&E, then they will move forward with construction.

PENNER: Okay, well, just to back up a little bit, the Sunrise Powerlink would do what?

SHARMA: It would transmit -- it's a 120-mile transmission line that would transmit energy.

PENNER: Okay, and going through which areas?

SHARMA: Through the San Diego County region. The main transmission line starts in Imperial County and then extends into the San Diego region, and then it also consists of lines within, or throughout, the San Diego region.

PENNER: Now, this proposed upgrade to the lines that are tied to the Powerlink -- why is the California Independent System Operator saying that these upgrades are needed now?

SHARMA: Well, let me give you a little bit of background. The ISO, as it is known, is responsible for making sure that you and I, everyone in this state, has electricity. Back in 2006, it said -- it endorsed -- the San Diego Gas & Electric proposed Powerlink project in part because it said it was necessary to meet the state's expected rule of requiring utilities to get 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

PENNER: Renewables...

SHARMA: Renewable. The only problem is that they didn't take into account the fact that the big utility to the north of us, Southern California Edison, also had to meet that state rule, even though, the ISO a year earlier back in 2005 had endorsed a project by Edison to build a transmission line that also was going to bring renewable energy from the desert in east Riverside County. So now, the ISO is saying 'Look, in order to get all of this renewable power onto the transmission line without congestion, we need these upgrades, and these upgrades are going to cost a billion dollars.' And most of the upgrades are in San Diego County. So people on the outside are saying 'Wait a minute, ISO, back in 2006 how did you not know this? You knew about Southern California Edison's plan because you backed it a year earlier, and you also knew that the state had designated the east of -- east Riverside County as a major solar development zone.'

PENNER: So it sounds like there was sort of a lack of coordination, or insufficient information, but meanwhile it's going to be pretty expensive to put in these upgrades, isn't it?

SHARMA: One billion dollars

PENNER: Yes, that's what you said.

SHARMA: And the cost of that is going to be spread throughout the state, so it won't just be San Diego ratepayers, it'll be ratepayers throughout the state.

PENNER: But it will be ratepayers.

SHARMA: Correct.

PENNER: All right. So why should ratepayers be stuck with the bill?

SHARMA: That's how the system is set up, that we pay for the construction of transmission lines.

PENNER: What was the ISO's explanation for the -- for not understanding, or for not acknowledging that this was going to happen both north of us and here as well.

SHARMA: Well, the ISO said 'Look, we didn't go into this with blinders on. We did know about the project in Riverside County, but at that time, back in 2006, it did not meet the criteria to be factored in. And people on the outside are saying 'Your criteria are flawed, your criteria are arbitrary.'

PENNER: So is there actual blame to be laid here?

SHARMA: It depends on who you ask. The ISO would say 'Look, this is what our process is.' I think people who oppose the Sunrise Powerlink project are going to say, you know, the ISO inappropriately got behind the Sunrise Powerlink project and endorsed it, and in order to justify it, it produced a highly flawed report.

PENNER: Now what will this mean to the Sunrise Powerlink?

SHARMA: Well, you know, as I said the Sunrise Powerlink project, it starts -- the main line starts in Imperial County and extends into the San Diego region. It also consists of a series of smaller powerlines throughout the San Diego region. If these upgrades are built they are lines feeding in to the Sunrise Powerlink project.

PENNER: All right, could it possibly stop the project?

SHARMA: I don't -- I don't know the answer to that question.

PENNER: It will be worth watching, won't it.

SHARMA: Yes, and we'll be watching it.

PENNER: Thank you very much, Amita Sharma.

SHARMA: Thank you.