Construction on the Sunrise Powerlink­—a $1.88-billion, 118-mile, 1,000-MW-capacity power line that would connect urban San Diego with alternative energy sources in the Imperial Valley—could begin in June if the U.S. Forest Service grants final approval. The owner, San Diego Gas and Electric Co., says the line is a key part of California’s mandated goal of deriving a third of its power from alternative sources by 2020.

SDG&E could expedite the decision by meeting two conditions based on environmental considerations: shifting right-of-way to a northern route to avoid crossing designated wilderness areas and completing some construction using helicopters to protect the ecologically fragile areas. SDG&E cleared two regulatory hurdles last year when the California Public Utilities Commission denied a rehearing request, and the Interior Board of Land Appeals denied a motion to halt construction. The line does not require Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, according to Jennifer Ramp, SDG&E spokeswoman.

Sun Lines

The new power line would provide access to Imperial Valley Solar Two, a 300-MW concentrating-solar dish farm that is being built by Houston-based Tessera Solar (formerly Stirling Energy Systems). SDG&E has options for a total of 750 MW that could be completed over the next 40 months, when a total of 30,000 25-kW tracking solar dishes and a 230-kW substation are in place. The project is scheduled to receive approval in August from the Bureau of Land Management, which owns much of the 6,500-acre site.

Construction on the first phase could begin in the fall, according to Janette Coates, Tessera Solar spokeswoman. Sunrise Powerlink will also harvest up to 49.4 MW from MMR Power Solutions’ Imperial Valley solar parabolic-trough farm and associated biomass operations.

In addition, SDG&E plans to load up to 60 MW of geothermal energy, with more on the horizon. The agency has contracted with Esmeralda Truckhaven Geothermal LLC, headquartered in Agoura Hills, Calif., for 20 MW from the Juan Bautista de Anza Geothermal Project, west of the Salton Sea.

Once the new line is operational, SDG&E plans to use the freed-up capacity of the existing Southwest Powerlink to carry up to 160 MW generated from wind turbines. An expansion of the turbine operation, which sits on land owned by the Campo Band of Mission Indians of the Kumeyaay Nation, is planned.

If all goes well, the new line will be operational by 2012.