Boulevard San Diego Gas & Electric held a symbolic ground breaking near here last week, launching the construction of their $1.9 billion Sunrise Powerlink, the 117-miles electric transmission line that the utility promises will transport electricity cleanly generated in Imperial County to San Diego.
But about 80 protestors &mdash who argue the line has little to do with clean power &mdash did their best to spoil the party, chanting loudly, honking horns and waving signs along the dirt road that SDG&E used to haul several busloads of invited guests out to remote Rough Acres Ranch for the ground-breaking.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played a key role in winning approval for the line and attended the event, called Sunrise the type of “big, bold” project needed to create a clean energy future and said it was key to the development of other solar and renewable energy projects in Imperial County.
But Bill Powers, an engineer who specializes in electric generating systems and is a leading opponent of the project, said Sunrise and similar projects make no economic or environmental sense. A strategy that places solar panels on urban rooftops, said Powers, will avoid the huge costs of building transmission lines to the desert, as well as the environmental damage that will come from large construction projects in the backcountry (one Imperial County project will cover 10 square miles).
Continually declining prices for photovoltaic panels, as well as improvements in the efficiency of these devices will make a future of distributed electric generation even more compelling, said Powers. The only reason for continuing to build expensive power lines and big remote electric facilities is to boost utility company profits, he said.
SDG&E spent more than five years and $450 million just to reach last week’s groundbreaking. The utility has refused to pledge the line will carry only renewably generated power but insists the line will improve regional electric reliability and allow it to reach a state mandate that will require utilities to derive 33 percent of their electricity from green sources by 2020.
Opponents, meanwhile, continue with legal challenges to the project in state and federal courts, as well within regulatory agencies.