'I spent four hours in a real intense sandstorm," says activist Kelly Fuller. "I had a painter's mask and a bandana on and pulled the hood of my jacket down over my face. When it was over, the mirror finish on my sunglasses was gone, sandblasted right off." On Friday, December 15, Fuller will speak at the Sierra Club's San Diego chapter monthly meeting about her 78-mile hike in protest of San Diego Gas & Electric's proposed Sunrise Powerlink. "I walked from where the line would start, at the Imperial Valley substation. From there the route followed the existing high-voltage line. I spent a couple of days walking that to the Southwest Powerlink. I went through the community of Ocotillo Wells, through the Anza-Borrego State Park, to the Warner Springs substation, which was where the public land ended at that time -- they are still changing the route. I stopped at 78 miles because past there I'd have to go onto private property, and it would have taken forever to get permission," says Fuller.
The $1.3 billion transmission-line project is expected to be 150 miles long and provide San Diego with an additional 1000 megawatts, enough to power approximately 650,000 homes. The project, for which an application was filed by SDG&E with the California Public Utilities Commission on December 14, 2005, includes plans for the construction of a new, 80-acre substation. According to the SDG&E website, much of the electricity imported on the Sunrise Powerlink will come from "energy sources such as solar, geothermal, and wind power produced in the Imperial Valley and eastern San Diego County."
Fuller hiked the trail from April 11 to April 20, 2006. "Temperatures were severe for April, in the mid-90s," she remembers. "That was only a problem because you need to carry a lot more water; a gallon weighs eight and a third pounds, and I would have [had] to carry two or three gallons at a time." On the third day, while she still had cell phone reception, Fuller called for help. "One of the first people who came was Paul, who is now my fiancé."
Rather than attempt to carry all of her supplies, which would have been difficult due to one of her legs that is "held together with hardware," Fuller put out a list of things she might need and asked for help along the way. "I ate so well. People would come out with a camp stove and chair and say, 'You sit down, we're going to cook you dinner.'" The food she received included lasagna and homemade chocolate cake.
Fuller, who is a Quaker, cites religious motivation (in addition to environmental concern) for embarking on her journey. "It was a holy week. Because I was trying to protect the desert as God's creation, doing the walk and going through Good Friday and through Easter Sunday was very important to me." Before she left, a fellow Quaker gave Fuller a crucifix from around her neck to wear as protection as she crossed the desert.
Some of the areas Fuller traversed have been used as immigration trails out of Mexico. When she notified the Border Patrol of her presence, they told her that if she had any trouble she should push the button on one of their emergency towers. "There are giant towers in the desert, located in areas where people have died," says Fuller. "Signs are in English and Spanish, but because some people can't read, there's a little cartoon of a guy walking through the desert, looking like he's in trouble."
Fuller invited executives from Sempra Energy and SDG&E to accompany her for portions of her hike so that they might better understand her objections to their proposed plans. "Instead of responding to me, they offered to send one of their consultants who was doing biological studies to come and follow me the entire time. I didn't want that. I wanted a decision maker to come."
At one point on her trek, a disgruntled Fuller had a verbal clash with Jim Avery, vice president of electric operations for SDG&E. Fuller did not speak directly with Avery, but through a reporter for the Imperial Valley Press who relayed statements from each of them over the phone. "It was especially stressful because, while that executive was sitting comfortably in his office, no doubt, I was walking across the desert with a pack on my back and trying to compose myself." -- Barbarella
Sierra Club Monthly Program
Kelly Fuller: Walking the Sunrise Powerlink
Friday, December 15
Joyce Beers Center
3900 Vermont Street
Info: 619-299-1743 or www.sandiego.sierraclub.org