Eleanor Widmer 8:30 a.m., March 23
- Community Blog
SoCa's Grid Controversy
Almost 67 miles south east of Oceanside, California lives a yeti. Skirting beneath Palomar Mountain’s 6,140 foot peak and beneath the charred forest of Santa Ysabel Mountain, I wound my way on San Diego County’s two lane back roads towards the tiny town of Ranchita where the “Rancheti” was reported to live. Beyond Lake Henshaw reflecting the forest and sky, the fiberglass Sasquatch stands sentinel in front of the Ranchita Country Store. The 11 foot tall, 250 pound statue is clearly visible from CR-S 22, the scenic Montezuma Valley Road that cuts through the mountains to the east, providing access to Anza Borrego Desert and to the Salton Sea.
On a whim, local realtor Joe Rauh began creating the prototype for his eye catching sign holder, and he and his twin brother made their 2007 debut at the three day, nonstop, six stage Ranchita Rocks Music Festival, a fundraiser held annually at Carolyn Morrow’s Golightly Farm for the Protect our Communities Foundation, a nonprofit organization opposed to the San Diego Gas & Electric Company’s (SDGE) proposed Sunrise Powerlink.
For those who are not yet acquainted with the Sunrise Powerlink controversy, know that it is Sempra Energy Utility’s vision of building a 123 mile long transmission line that would begin in Mexico, span Imperial County, California and slice through pristine and protected San Diego County backcountry. By protected I mean Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) acreage and the State’s Anza Borrego Desert Park all designated for preservation. The Borrego—for the record--is the largest State park in California and the second largest state park in the nation.
This fire stricken southern California region is home to numerous endangered species, including the Golden Eagle and Peninsular Bighorned Sheep, 200 of the remaining 280 reside in the Park. Additionally, the proposed army of giant transmission line structures would be placed within a vital breeding ground along the Pacific Flyway, a migratory bird and wildfowl flight path between Canada and Argentina. Definitely natural resources worth preserving, I would think.
Typically, not everyone is of the same opinion. The County, BML, USFS, and Governor’s Office, for instance, support the project. Former Governor Schwarzenegger, mind you, closed 150 of the 278 State Parks that had been previously designated to protect approximately 1.5 million acres, 280 miles along the Pacific coast and 625 miles frontage on lakes and rivers. No shock then to understand why park advocates and environmentalists questioned his and other’s motives altogether, at least as they pertained to land and wildlife preservation. And is it me, or does the placement of high voltage transmission lines along the San Andreas Fault seem counterintuitive?
I, myself, am at a loss as I, too, had thought the purpose of park systems was to actually preserve nature in perpetuity for passive public enjoyment. California’s State Park System is the country’s largest. Needless to say, I don’t make the rules and on September 16, 2010 the State of California regulatory agencies, waiving existing environmental protection laws, approved a preliminary Notice to Proceed that allows San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE), a Sempra subsidiary, to begin construction on non-transmission related support facilities.
Interestingly enough, there is an up-side to the story. SDGE, owner of the largest natural gas distributor in the country, markets this project as a “green” initiative, claiming that the proposed $1.7 billion “economic development” project will yield “unparalleled benefits” and “vast sources of renewable energy.” The 500 kilovolt superhighway expects to produce “up to 1,000 megawatts of clean power” by connecting to several solar energy farms and biomass augmented solar troughs proposed for the Imperial Valley in southern California. Forward thinking SDGE has already pre-order contracted for the future procurement of 525 megawatts from these conceptual facilities respectively as well as 60 megawatts from Esmeralda Energy’s existing San Felipe and Truckhaven geothermal facilities. Wind projects such as the Kumeyaay Wind Farm on Campo tribal lands are currently being developed by. All sounds sweet. Sounds unnecessarily complex, insanely expensive and inexcusably invasive, too.
Not so, says SDGE—comparatively, Powerlink is the more affordable clean energy option. The utility has stated that the energy to be produced is equivalent to installing 855,000 residential rooftop solar panels, which they claim would be significantly more expensive.
Even more interesting than SDGE’s green marketing approach is the fact that in February, 2010 they negotiated the acquisition of pipeline and gas infrastructure assets from El Paso Corporation in northern Mexico, as well as a fifty-fifty joint venture with Mexican state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos, (PEMEX). The El Paso assets include a 114 mile pipeline pumping liquid propane from Mexico to a Monterrey facility. Although not the only American company to have negotiated such deals, I am at a loss as to understand how Sempra is helping free the country from foreign fuel dependency. It occurs to me that the $300 million perhaps could have just as easily been put to better use supporting existing and new start up renewable energy businesses keeping the dollars local, or say, installing rooftop solar panels.
With the current Administration in such public support of clean solar energy, I would think there would be ample incentives available that would diminish expenses of solar array installations. German solar developer, Solar Millennium, certainly thinks so. Their $6 billion, 7,000 acre, thousand-megawatt (or one kilowatt) Blythe Solar Power Project soon to be the largest array to date in the world has been approved by Obama’s team for installation on public land in the Mojave Desert about 225 miles east of Los Angles.
The previous Governor of California may not have appeared to be a park advocate but he certainly supported solar generation, having facilitated the location of six of the eight projects recently approved by the Department of the Interior on California public lands.