January 23, 2009

Battle over desert power line escalates

An environmental group asks the state Supreme Court to review PUC approval of the project.

By Marla Dickerson
Los Angeles Times

An environmental group has asked the California Supreme Court to review a controversial power transmission project that was approved last month by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The petition filed late Wednesday by the Center for Biological Diversity alleges that the commission violated California law by failing to ensure that the proposed Sunrise Powerlink would be used principally to carry renewable energy and by rejecting alternative routes that would have avoided fragile wilderness areas. The group wants the court to void the decision and order the PUC to reconsider the proposal.

"Sunrise . . . would sacrifice sensitive public lands and vital habitat without any guarantee the line will be used to deliver clean energy," said Ileene Anderson, Los Angeles spokeswoman for the group.

The center also plans to ask the PUC for a rehearing on the $1.9-billion project, which it contends is unnecessary and too costly, Anderson said.

Wednesday's filing, which was expected, is just the latest development in a lengthy dispute over Sunrise. Proposed by San Diego Gas & Electric, the $1.9-billion ratepayer-financed transmission line is slated to run 123 miles from Imperial County to San Diego, crossing remote areas of the San Diego backcountry and the Cleveland National Forest.

SDG&E said the line was necessary for it to meet state mandates to boost its use of renewable power by ensuring there is enough transmission capacity available to get energy from remote wind, solar and geothermal projects to urban areas where it's needed.

Opponents say it's a costly boondoggle that will destroy unique desert habitat while allowing SDG&E to transport fossil fuel-generated electricity through the lines. They contend that funds would be better spent developing urban solar projects that use existing transmission infrastructure.

PUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said she couldn't comment on a pending appeal of a decision. The court can take as long as it wants to decide whether it will hear the petition.