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By Miriam Raftery

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December 19, 2008 (San Diego's East County) —  The California Public
Utilities Commission (CPUC) has ruled to allow construction of Sunrise Powerlink
across the southern portion of East County.   The decision drew a
mixture of praise and criticism from local community leaders. 

"Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has revealed his true colors when it comes
to meaningfully reducing greenhouse gases and preserving California's precious
natural resources," said Martha Sullivan, former CPUC staffer and member of
Communities United for Sensible Power, in an e-mail to East County Magazine.  "The 'green' he is committed to is that of currency, NOT clean, renewable energy."
Sullivan blasted the Governor for writing a letter two days before the decision
urging the five commissioners (four of whom were appointed by the Governor)
o approve the project with no guarantee that SDG&E will live up to its
promises for the line to carry energy from renewable sources such as solar
or wind.

But San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mike Cully
praised the decision.  "We applaud the commissioners for their wise
decision and for the exhaustive work each of them committed to understanding
the scope and scale of this project," said Cully. Local business advocates,
including Cully, were part of a delegation of roughly 30 organizations from
the San Diegio region that that traveled to San Francisco to testify in favor
of the Sunrise Powerlink project to the CPUC.  "It is our mission to insure
that business has access to stable and dependable sources of power both now
and in the future, and this decision guarantees that San Diego will remain
a preferred location for businesses to operate," Cully said. 
In a letter to members, San Diego Sierra Club leader Micah Mitrosky faulted
commissioners for disregarding a recommendation by administrative law judge
Jean Vieth to reject Powerlink.  Mitrosky also criticized the CPUC for
ignoring a proposal by Comissioner Dian Grueneich that would have required
SDG&E to guarantee that the $1.9 billion, 120-mile high voltage line project
would carry energy from clean, renewable sources.   She expressed
relief that an earlier proposed route through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
has been rejected, but pledged that Sierra Club and its allies will evaluate
the CPUC decision to determine whether it adheres to environmental laws.

"Corporate profit won out today," Mitrosky told the Union-Tribune.  She
added that the decision could lead to more energy being imported from Mexico,
where plants use fossil fuels and Sempra, parent company of SDG&E, has
added a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant.  According to a recent KPBS
report, the LNG plant has sparked safety fears among critics, who contend the
facility could send a toxic cloud of gas into residential areas if an accident
occurred, damage sea life by sucking in water, and utilize dirtier gas than
would be allowable under U.S. environmental laws,  potentially exacerbating
air pollution.

SDG&E president and chief executive officer Debra L. Reed praised the
CPUC decision, which she stated in a press release will "help pave the way
toward achieving the state's aggressive environmental and energy policy goals."  She
added, "Reliable transmission infrastructure is critically needed to reinforce
the region's electric system and to open up new avenues for delivering green
energy to our customers."  Competition of the 120-mile line is anticipated
for 2012; SDG&E estimates the line will be capable of delivering up to
1,000 megawatts of green energy.  The utility serves 3.4 million customers
in San Diego and southern Orange counties.

The proposed southern route would run along portions of Interstate 8, dipping
south along the Cleveland National Forest, then north to Santee and through
the Penasquitos Canyon Preserve.

Supporters claim the project is necessary to assure an adequate and uninterrupted
supply of energy to our region.  Oppponents contend that the project is
unnecessary and that San Diego County's energy needs could be met entirely
by locally produced clean, renewable energy.

The utility has proposed to provide some energy from wind farms with 400-foot-high
turbines in McCain Valley near Boulevard, a plan that raised concerns among
many backcountry residents who spoke against the project at a hearing in early
December.  Neighbors of a Campo wind farm, where turbines are smaller
in scale at approximately 160 feet, testified that they suffered from tinnitus
(ringing in the ears), headaches and disorientation similar to that which has
occurred in whales exposed to low-frequency sound waves from military sonar.

Whether SDG&E will abide by its pledge to provide energy from clean, renewable
resources or not remains to be seen. 

Meanwhile, Julian resident Jeanette Hartman, a Sierra Club spokesperson, said
the project is likely to be tied up in litigation in court for the next several
years.  In the meantime, she resolved, "The best thing that I can do is
to push for demonstration projects."  Hartman aims to see development
of small-scale solar and wind energy systems to demonstrate how individual
neighborhoods in East County can become energy self-sustaining--and prove that
Sunrise Powerlink is not needed.

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