Utility Commission Chief’s New Power Line Proposal Would Thwart Governor’s Greenhouse Gas Goals

As a result of pressure from San Diego Gas and Electric, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey on Tuesday filed a third proposed ruling in the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line case that would completely permit construction of the power line.

Peevey’s proposal would allow the line to be used for transmission of electricity generated by fossil fuel-fired power plants, thus contradicting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reason for supporting the Sunrise line – the governor has said he would support the line because it would promote renewable energy transmission.

A staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity named Justin Augustine declared that “San Diego Gas and Electric has revealed their real colours.” It is clear at this point that SDG&E’s goal has never been to transmit renewable energy.

Following the submission of two further alternative judgments on October 31st, Peevey’s suggestion was made. In the first, a 123-mile power line across some of California’s few surviving wildlands, including national forests and other public areas, would not be allowed to be built. This choice is endorsed by both the Center for Biological Diversity and the project’s most recent Final Environmental Impact Report. Eight different options were rated in the report, and it was discovered that the options without a power line were the best.

Additionally, Sunrise proceedings administrative law judge Jean Vieth came to the conclusion that no power line is necessary and that “the significant environmental impacts of [all Sunrise powerline alternatives] strongly militate against authorising the construction of any of them” in a lengthy opinion.

A power line might be built under the second suggested choice, but with a crucial catch: San Diego Gas & Electric would first need to accept a renewable energy Compliance Plan. The Center had contended throughout the proceedings that the power line would raise greenhouse gas emissions and that there was no certainty the utility company would fulfil its commitment to renewable energy. Should the line be completed, Commissioner Dian Grueneich concurred and included a Compliance Plan in her suggested ruling. If the line is allowed, the Plan—the first of its type in California—will be a significant step toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Following recent talks between representatives of Peevey’s office and the power business, during which utility executives notified Peevey that they did not want the Compliance Plan, Peevey made his suggested conclusion. However, corporate representatives’ resistance to the Plan runs directly against to what they have said throughout the Sunrise procedure, which is that the power line should be for renewable energy.

“The judgement put forth by Commissioner Peevey at what seems to be SDG&E’s request would permit the use of the line for power produced using fossil fuels, which would greatly increase greenhouse gas emissions. This obviously violates the judgments of the administrative law judge and staff of the Commission, as well as state law and policy, according to Augustine.

The utility company claims it won’t use the line for coal-generated electricity and would replace failed renewable-energy contracts with new renewable contracts in an effort to “greenwash” its objections to the Compliance Plan. However, industry representatives omit to note that their promises would only maintain the status quo and are therefore unlikely to meet the 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard standards by 2020.

The three Sunrise ideas will be up for discussion by the Commission in December.

With 200,000 members and online activists, the Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation group devoted to preserving natural areas and endangered animals.

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Alex Jones

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