California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, San Diego Gas & Electric's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jessie J. Knight, Jr., and others last week launched the official start of construction of the utility's $1.9 billion, 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink transmission line. Construction on the underground portion of the new power line, which will increase the reliability of the power grid and transport renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy to San Diego, started last week in Alpine, California. When completed in 2012, the 500-kV Sunrise Powerlink electric "superhighway" will have the capacity to carry at least 1000 MW of clean power, or enough energy to power approximately 650,000 homes.

As a key supporter of the project, Gov. Schwarzenegger hailed the Sunrise Powerlink as an important factor in the state's economic recovery by helping to advance the region's renewable energy industry.

"The construction of the Sunrise Powerlink is a huge win for the people of California," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "This transmission line opens the door for additional green investments and job creation in the Imperial Valley, while helping us meet our renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals and improving the reliability of our power grid. It is these types of big, bold projects California needs to transition to a clean energy future."

"Today's ceremony marks the culmination of more than five years of study and planning for a transmission line critically needed to increase reliability and help meet our goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020," said Jessie J. Knight, Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of SDG&E. "We value the support we've received from the governor and federal and state agencies to move this project forward. At the same time, I'd also like to acknowledge the thousands of supporters in San Diego and Imperial counties who recognized early on the importance of this project to our region and pledged their full backing."

On Nov. 23, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a "notice to proceed" to SDG&E, clearing the way for the utility to begin construction on the underground section of the transmission line in Alpine. On Nov. 30, crews started preparing the 6.2-mile stretch of Alpine Boulevard for construction of the underground facilities. SDG&E has conducted extensive outreach in the Alpine community, and plans to minimize disruptions during construction by maintaining access to all businesses along Alpine Boulevard.

The project's rigorous, five-year environmental review and permitting process included approvals by the CPUC in late 2008, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in early 2009, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's United States Forest Service (USFS) earlier this year.

"The Sunrise Powerlink is a key element in strengthening California's clean electricity infrastructure," said CPUC Commissioner Dian M. Grueneich. "It will provide the transmission backbone to deliver the renewable energy now under development in the Imperial Valley, while bringing green-collar jobs to the greater region."

The new transmission line will transport power from the abundant renewable energy resources within California's Imperial Valley to electricity customers in San Diego. In the past six months, SDG&E has signed several contracts with developers for more than 300 megawatts of solar energy from Imperial Valley. These projects are expected to provide hundreds of new construction jobs in that community.

"I can't emphasize enough how important this project is to the Imperial Valley region, which has experienced persistent, record-high unemployment rates over the past several years," said Imperial County Board of Supervisor Gary Wyatt. "Now we can help put people back to work and develop our abundant local renewable energy resources in a way that takes into account the preservation of our natural resources and native habitat." The transmission line project's environmental review process was a collaborative effort involving SDG&E, USFS, BLM, CPUC and other federal, state, and local agencies. This process led to several modifications that will substantially reduce the project's environmental impacts, including preserving sensitive areas within the Cleveland National Forest. SDG&E also has developed a Habitat Acquisition Plan that will preserve thousands of acres of sensitive habitat and create sanctuaries for several threatened and endangered species in San Diego and Imperial counties.

Earlier this fall, SDG&E received authorization to begin construction on several other preliminary components of the project, including substation upgrades, construction staging yards and field offices. Materials such as underground cable, steel tower components and overhead power lines have been ordered and readied for construction. The Sunrise Powerlink is expected to create 400 to 500 construction jobs over the next two years.