Monday, August 13, 2007

The Bush Energy Policy at work in Southern California

In October of 2004, British Petroleum - Indonesia contracted with Sempra Energy for delivery of liquid natural gas to the western hemisphere. Consequently, Sempra and BP cuts deals with the Mexican government to build a LNG port and storage facility in Ensenada, Mexico on the western coast of Baja California.

Sempra will build a large scale pipeline from their storage facility that will hook up with the existing pipelines in Mexico. The pipelines will ship LPG to Mexicali, where they are constructing a large electric power generation plant. They'll send the electric power across the border on high power transmission lines which they plan to build across Imperial and San Diego counties.

The California phase of the project is called the Sunrise Powerlink. Sempra's Sunrise Powerlink is a 150-mile, 500 kilovolt, $1.4 billion transmission line that will cut across the California desert, through Anza Borrego State Park, over the mountains, and through numerous North County rural and suburban communities.

There are many who are opposed to the Sunrise Powerlink because of the reasons mentioned above. There are also concerns about environmental destruction, the defacement of state park land, and fire hazard in San Diego's arid back country. Many people question the need for this line at all, and believe that sufficient power can be generated within the county to meet San Diego's electricity needs. They see the SPL plan as nothing but a moneymaker for Sempra and San Diego Gas and Electric.

One of the primary benefits originally touted by Sempra was the financial benefit to consumers. However they have repeatedly been forced to slash their estimates of economic benefit. The $447 million in annual consumer savings was first cut to $204 million, and now more recently to $129 million.

The California Public Utilities Commission recently held hearings and extended the EIR process into next year. Sempra was hoping to be well into this project in 2008, but there's now a significant delay, mostly due to their own inaccuracies and errors, and questions about the environmental impact of the massive project.

BUT, as it should be expected by now, the federal government rides to the rescue of the energy industry. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 legislated that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a right to declare Energy Corridors of National Interest, and now much of Southern California, and parts of Arizona and Nevada are under consideration to be designated as such. What this means is the US Department of Energy can step in and over-ride the states interest and jurisdiction over energy policy if they claim that it is in the national interest to do so. The law allows them to grant permits to Sempra and other local energy companies to allow them to use eminent domain to lay claim to land to be used for the construction of the Sunrise Powerlink, including state land in the Anza Borrego State Park.

The Department of Energy wants to designate 11 counties in Southern California, western Arizona and southern Nevada as one of two “national interest electric transmission corridors.” The other corridor unveiled yesterday would cover a wide portion of the Mid-Atlantic region, stretching from Maryland to New York and as far west as Ohio.

The two corridors, the first selected after months of study and comment, mark a major policy shift in which decisions on critical power lines could be approved by federal regulators over the objections of state officials.

“The parochial interests that shaped energy policy in the 20th century will no longer work,” Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said yesterday.

People rightly worry about about the federal government allowing a Bush administration favored corporation like Sempra to claim private property, and state owned park land through eminent domain. What a sweet deal for them though! They must be as happy as pigs at the trough. Once again, California gets screwed while the energy industry gets a big, wet kiss. Between this project and the energy industry's manufactured "California energy crisis", I'm sensing a trend.

There are a multitude of reasons why a close eye should be kept on this entire project. The need for this powerlink is questionable. The environmental and aesthetic impacts of this project will be significant, especially in light of circumstances surrounding the building of energy related infrastructure south of the border where environmental, health, employment and safety standards are less stringent than in the United States. And last but not least, the relationship between the energy companies and the federal government is a wee bit too cozy. The Sunrise Powerlink and it's related projects deserve the public scrutiny they're receiving, and much, much more.

On a related note, if you're interested in a weekend of music and camping while supporting a local grassroots organization that is fighting the good fight to keep Sunrise Powerlink out of their backyard, check out Ranchita Rocks, San Diego's 1st Annual "Protect Our Communities" Benefit Concert that will be held in Ranchita on September 28th, 29th & 30th. The gates will open at noon on Friday. The fundraiser is being held on private property where there's room for tent camping, RV access, and music, music, comedy and more music. There are currently over 30 bands scheduled to perform, a "comedy camp", DJs, and a no host BBQ. You can spend three days camping in the San Diego back county, and have fun with your friends and family, all while supporting a community that is working hard to keep high power transmission lines out of their backyard.

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