California regulators approve transmission upgrade

California energy market regulators have approved a long discussed transmission upgrade proposed by southern California electric utility San Diego Gas & Electric that will open the way for wind development in the area. The decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to back the southern route of the Sunrise Powerlink line came after its denial of approval for the 240-kilometre northern route because it agreed with environmentalists that the line's traverse of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park posed too much environmental impact. Northern version or southern version, Nancy Rader of the California Wind Energy Association says what is important is that the transmission project gets approval and starts construction soon in order to connect a large volume of proposed generation in southern California with power-hungry load centres. This includes a large amount of potential renewable energy resources in the Imperial Valley and could unlock stranded wind assets in the remote Northern Baja region of Mexico, just south of San Diego. Rader says a preliminary study by engineering consultancy Black & Veatch identified at least 5000 MW of wind potential in the region, using a conservative estimate, and that as much as 9000 MW could be generated from the Baja region. "The southern route is a great compromise decision and I am surprised that it took this long to arrive at it," says Dariush Shirmohammadi of Shir Consultants. He studied the various lines for California's central energy market operator in 2006 and said the main justification for an upgrade was to access the solar and geothermal resources in the Imperial Valley. "At that time, Baja Wind was not on our radar screen. Nowadays, Baja wind is expected to significantly benefit from the line."