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Photo: Wind turbines in Ocotillo dwarf resident and mountains surrounding the desert town

By Miriam Raftery

August 29, 2014 (San Diego’s East County)--Jim Avery, a senior vice president at San Diego Gas & Electric Company, says the utility will meet California’s 33% renewable energy goal by the end of 2014 – six years ahead of schedule, IT San Diego reports.

The state’s ambitious mandate for utilities has pushed aggressive construction of transmission lines such as Sunrise Powerlink as well as industrial-scale wind and solar projects in desert and rural regions.

Avery made the announcement in Los Angeles at a meeting of state energy officials and clean air regulators gathered to assure adequate and clean future power supplies.

Much of the new renewable power is flowing across the Sunrise Powerlink, a 117-mile transmission line leading east from San Diego. The line was completed in July 2012 at a cost of $1.8 billion to utility customers across the state.

SDG&E is getting power from the Ocotillo wind facility and recently signed at least three dozen contracts for new solar and wind power plants near  Borrego Springs in San Diego County and other locations. The company also aims to build two fossil fuel gas-fired power plants in Otay Mesa and Carlsbad to help offset power lost due to shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear facility and provide backup to fluctuations in wind and solar power.

The state’s 33 percent renewable portfolio standard mandate is for utility companies; critics contend it should also consider the boom in rooftop and parking lot solar when assessing the state’s future energy needs.

Biologist Edie Harmon, who fought against the Ocotillo wind facility due to environmental harm to habitats and the community, asks why power purchase agreements for new industrial-scale solar projects are being weighed if the renewable standard is already set to be met this year. “What does this mean for projects in East County San Diego that do not yet have power purchase agreements?” she asks.

Tule Wind has been approved by regulators for construction in McCain Valley, but a power purchase agreement with SDG&E has not yet been obtained.  Massive solar projects are proposed by SOITEC in Boulevard and by Nexterra in Jacumba, among others. But those projects have raised concerns among residents due to huge water use for construction in an area with limited groundwater resources, as well as concerns over destruction of wildlife habitat, fire dangers, health considerations for residents exposed to infrasound and electromagnetic radiation, as well as loss of rural character.



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