With San Onofre's nuclear power plant sidelined for the summer, Gov. Jerry Brown and other officials welcomed the Sunrise Powerlink into service Thursday, calling it a "green energy superhighway" and dismissing protesters who said it destroyed public land in East San Diego County.
Brown said clean energy trumps land preservation in the area.
“We all love the backcountry, but we love the planet more,” Brown said as part of a 16-member group of federal, state and local officials gathered at the new Suncrest Substation in Alpine.
“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.”
Utility officials because the behemoth San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is
The high-voltage power transmission line was completed and put into service June 17, but Brown, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other luminaries “lit” it up Thursday under the hum of the power lines.
“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 future solar and wind farms in the Imperial Valley to San Diego, according to SDG&E. Although the clean energy sources are still in the works, Brown said the line still provides immediate vital electricity to San Diego.
“They’re going to benefit now,” Brown said. “The 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 because of a steam generator. A retired Huntington Beach power plant had to be turned on to make up for the lost electricity.
Sunrise Powerlink protesters gathered near the station Thursday with signs claiming that public land, and beauty, was lost.
Among those opposed to the line and substation is East County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. In a written statement issued Thursday, Jacob criticized 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 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.”
At the dedication, officials 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,” said Debra Reeds, CEO of Sempra Energy. “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 said more than 350 environmental measures were observed and enforced during 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 such precautions showed the company’s “deep commitment to the environment.”
The company also said 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.”
Many of the 16 speakers at the dedication ceremony emphasized Sunrise Powerlink’s reliability and importance in our future as a green state.
“We were determined to go and make a commitment to reduce our greenhouse gases by 25 percent by the year 2020 and 85 percent by the year 2050,” said Schwarzenegger. “All of this can only become a reality... if you have a green energy line like this.”