At ceremonies dedicating the Sunrise Powerlink, Gov. Jerry Brown suggested the future of the planet is more important than preserving land in East County.
“We all love the backcountry, but we love the planet more,” Brown said Thursday morning as part of a 16-member group of federal, state and local officials gathered at the new Suncrest Substation in Alpine.
The Sunrise Powerlink—which sparked opposition from many in the East County and elsewhere—was emphatically dubbed a “reliable” energy source for the region’s future.
“If we don’t get off of gas, oil and coal, you’re going to have heat waves and extreme climate events,” Brown said. “These installations are absolutely necessary for the transformation in our energy supply that global warming requires.”
The high-voltage power transmission line was completed and put into service June 17, but a group of officials, including Brown and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, “lit” it up Thursday at the substation under the hum of the power lines.
“Someone said ‘the snap, crackle and pop’ is the sound of success,” said Mike Niggli, president and chief operating officer of SDG&E.
The $1.9 billion project is 117 miles long and will carry “clean” energy from developing solar and wind farms in the Imperial Valley to San Diego, according to SDG&E. Though the clean energy sources are still in the works, Gov. Brown said the line still provides immediate vital electricity to San Diego.
“They’re going to benefit now,” Brown said. “San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is closed and ... unless we have transmission lines to bring the power from far away, the electricity won’t be there.”
San Onofre shut down in January 2012 due to a leak in the steam generator. Two retired generators at a Huntington Beach power plant in Orange County had to be turned on to make up for the nuclear station.
But some people still oppose the massive project, which includes six miles of underground 230-kilovolt cable and a 40-acre, 500-kilovolt transmission substation.
Protesters gathered near the station Thursday morning with signs claiming that public land, and beauty, is lost.
Among those opposed to the line and substation is East County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
In a written statement issued Thursday, Jacob expressed concern over the transmission lines and the increased chance of fires in the rural area of the Cleveland National Forest, where the substation is located.
She said anyone who supports the new line is indirectly contributing to the next major fire disaster in East County and beyond.
“Any policymaker attending this ‘celebration’ needs to justify the line in the face of documented evidence warning of its extreme fire dangers,” Jacob said. “SDG&E brushes off concerns about fire safety by claiming that the utility has a fire plan.
“The line traverses some of the most fire-prone terrain in the world. It will impede firefighting efforts from the air because firefighters cannot make water drops on energized lines.”
Jacob also noted that public safety was one of the reasons two PUC judges recommended that the line be rejected back in 2008.
Chris Wurzell—division chief of information, education and engineering at CalFire—agreed with Jacob, saying the Sunrise Powerlink sits too close to a parallel power line.
“Introduction of electrical transmission lines into the wildland adds to potential ignition and sources that can ignite wildfires,” Wurzell said in a letter to Aspen Environmental back in May of 2008.
“From a fire control viewpoint, the transmission line that parallels I-8 on the proposed southern route of the Sunrise Powerlink Transmission project will constitute a hazard to fire suppression crews attacking fires near the transmission lines.”
SDG&E said at the dedication that Powerlink was initially slated as a 24-month project, but thanks to efforts of many people including the company’s engineers, construction was done in 18 months to meet summer power demands.
“This was not an easy project to complete in 18 months,” said Debra Reed, CEO of Sempra Energy.
At the dedication, Reed said the new line provided three very important R’s for San Diego—reliability, renewables and rates.
“Without the largest power plant in our area, San Onofre, ‘no Sunrise’ would have meant limited access to additional power for the summer and possible service interruptions,” Reed said. “Without Sunrise, the governor and state’s aggressive renewable energy goals would be tougher to achieve.”
Reeds also said that, according to the California Public Uitilies Comission, the Sunrise Powerlink will save Sempra Energy customers $115 million in net benefits annually.
SDG&E says that more than 350 mitigation measures were observed and enforced during the construction of the substation and line, including special construction schedules to avoid bighorn sheep lambing and more than 2,400 golden eagle nesting seasons.
SDG&E CEO and Chairman Jessie Knight said precautions and measurements showed the company’s “deep commitment to the environment.”
The company also says that helicopters were used to set nearly three-quarters of the tower structures, reducing the need for more access roads and that the project was constructed without any major safety incidents.
“During the building of this project, our crews adhered to some of the most rigorous environmental requirements ever placed on a transmission line project in California history,” Knight said. “We purchased more than 10,000 acres of sensitive habitat and scenic lands for future generations to be able to enjoy in our regions.”
SDG&E has reportedly signed eight renewable energy agreements in the past three years that will provide clean energy to flow through the line and to homes everywhere in San Diego.
SDG&E CEO Knight said at the dedication that the contracts will create much-needed jobs in our county and help meet the state’s “ambitious” clean energy goals that “set an example for the entire nation.”
SDG&E says that two of the eight renewable projects are currently under constriction. The company’s goal is to increase the amount of renewable power it delivers by 33 percent by 2020.
Brown remains optimistic about such goals.
“I think 40 percent could be a realistic goal,” the governor said.
Many of the 16 speakers at the dedication ceremony emphasized the Sunrise Powerlink’s reliability and importance in our future as a green state.
“Because of [Gov. Brown’s vision,] we were determined to go and make a commitment to reduce our greenhouse gasses by 25 percent by the year 2020 and 85 percent by the year 2050,” said former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “All of this can only become a reality... if you have a green energy line like this.”
Speakers from SDG&E, the PUC, Sempra Energy and Sacramento called the Sunrise Powerlink a necessity for the region, both for the environment and the economy.
“Today we are celebrating that we have 1000 megwatts of clean energy,” Schwarzenegger said. “ And we are celebrating that this project created 23,000 jobs.”