SDG&E insists the line is needed to move electricity from renewable power facilities it says will be built in Imperial County, as well as to increase reliability and to save ratepayers money.
The broad community/ consumer/environmental coalition that has developed to oppose Sunrise says Sempra really wants the line because it will tie the company’s fossil-fuel infrastructure in northern Mexico — a liquefied natural gas import terminal and a generating plant — more easily into the California market.
They argue that SDG&E sought to bolster the case that it needed the Sunrise project for renewable development by avoiding development of clean-energy projects that wouldn’t depend on the line.
“SDG&E has a lot of money to make with the Sunrise Powerlink, and they wanted to show that the only renewables they could find were dependent on this line,” said Steven Siegel, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which opposes the transmission project.
Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers’ Action Net-
work agreed: “It was a political calculation on their part not to pursue renewables elsewhere.”
Shames is also skeptical that the experimental solar project that SDG&E hopes will generate 40 percent of its renewable electricity by the end of next year will produce anywhere near that level.
“I think it’s 50-50 that they will ultimately have a viable project — but it won’t be in 2010 or 2011, and it won’t be at the cost levels they anticipated,” he said.
Sempra, although a latecomer to renewable-energy projects, appears eager to make itself a significant renewable developer.
The company says it is planning to expand its Energía Sierra Juárez wind farm in northern Baja, which will generate 150 megawatts when its first phase is complete, to a potential total of 1000 megawatts. (A typical modern fossil-fuel plant generates roughly 500 egawatts, enough to power about 325,000 homes.)
Sempra also plans to add 50 megawatts of generating capacity at its El Dorado
site and build 500 mega-watts of solar generating capacity at other existing generating sites.
As for SDG&E, it pro- poses building 52 mega-watts of photovoltaic generating capacity at a cost of $250 million in the San Diego region over the next five years, but it won’t use thin-film technology.
SDG&E instead has asked regulators to allow it to use solar-tracking technology: solar panels mounted on units that follow the sun to maximize output.
Bill Powers, San Diego– based engineer and critic of SDG&E’s renewable efforts, says using solar-tracking technology makes no sense, particularly now that Sempra has demonstrated that using thin-film technology lowers costs.
“The extra generating capacity of tracking isn’t worth the cost, and the units take up too much land,” said Powers, who authored a plan to vastly expand solar on small, dispersed sites within the county.
“SDG&E is proposing the most expensive solar technology for its customers. Thin-film systems would be one-half the cost.”