Alternative to Powerlink is Proposed
Oct 19, 2007 - San Diego Union-Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Opponents of the Sunrise Powerlink yesterday unveiled a detailed alternative plan for a vast expansion of solar power and other measures that they say would cost no more than the proposed power line and provide greater energy security and environmental benefits.
By 2020, for example, the report said San Diego could generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources versus 18 percent projected by San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which has proposed the Sunrise transmission line.
The "San Diego Smart Energy 2020" report, funded by a grant from the San Diego Foundation, was written by Bill Powers, a locally based power engineer and prominent Sunrise opponent, with assistance from E-Tech International, a nonprofit consulting firm in Santa Fe, N.M. The $30,000 grant was given to a coalition of community groups opposed to the Sunrise project.
"These guidelines put the primary emphasis on energy efficiency; clean, local renewables; and highly efficient, combined heat- and power-generating units," said Powers, who has been involved in the power industry for 25 years.
In that way, he said, the proposal seeks to align local energy policy with recent California mandates designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Powers said the plan could cost far less than the projected cost of Sunrise, which is estimated at $7 billion over 40 years, including interest and utility profits.
SDG&E's proposed 150-mile Sunrise Powerlink transmission line would originate in Imperial County, cross Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and then pass through a host of North County communities.
The utility says the line is needed to tap electricity from renewable-energy projects SDG&E says will be built in Imperial County and to help ensure regional electrical reliability by providing another major avenue for moving electricity into the area.
Opponents say the line would be environmentally damaging and too expensive and probably would transport electricity from fossil-fuel facilities.
Using a model that has been employed by local schools and the Alvarado Water District, the alternative plan proposes spending $1.5 billion on incentives for private companies to build about 2,000 megawatts of photovoltaic systems on commercial roofs and parking structures in the region.
The provider companies would own the systems, offer discounted electricity to customers and feed excess power to SDG&E's grid.
The project's scale would approach that undertaken by the state, which this year launched a $3 billion incentive program to encourage the construction of 3,000 megawatts of photovoltaics.
By placing a heavy emphasis on local power generation, the plan would help generate local jobs, offer better security and provide greater environmental benefit, supporters said.
In addition, the plan proposes spending about $740 million on local transmission upgrades. Powers said another key component would be the expanded use of combined heat and power projects, which produce electricity by burning natural gas and tapping the exhaust heat from the combustion as an additional energy source.
San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye, who attended yesterday's Sierra Club news conference at which the plan was released, said she would utilize the report as the city moves forward to meet state mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"Bill Powers has done an amazing job," Frye said.
In addition to making the region less dependent on fossil fuels for electricity, "this would create a renewable energy industry in San Diego, diversifying our economy beyond biotech and tourism," Frye said.
A spokeswoman for SDG&E, Christy Heiser, said the utility encouraged debate about the region's energy future. But she said that debate should take place within the process established by the California Public Utilities Commission. The commission, which is considering the Sunrise project, approves regional long-range energy plans.
Heiser said SDG&E believes that the report understates the cost of the expanded solar program and the limitations of solar energy.
"Sunrise would provide 1,000 megawatts of electricity all the time," Heiser said. "The solar projects will only be good when the sun is shining."
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