COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | DANIEL COFFEY

Thanks for a vision of a better world

On July 26, 2012, San Diego Gas and Electric formally dedicated and powered up the 117-mile long, $1.8 billion Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, which reaches from Imperial County to San Diego. The celebratory event was held before an audience of more than 500 invited guests under a temporary shade tent set up at the 80-acre Suncrest Substation in eastern San Diego County.

It was a genuinely momentous occasion, one which will well serve Californians, San Diegans and the people of Imperial County for generations to come. In fact, the Sunrise Powerlink began serving San Diegans early, as it was pressed into service June 16 in order to provide much needed electricity for San Diego after the 3,000-megawatt San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station went off-line for an indefinite period.

Gov. Jerry Brown and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger both spoke at the dedication, along with 14 other fascinating speakers. In a rare show of unanimity, both governors effusively gave due credit to the vision, tenacity and stalwart support for the project exhibited by each other.

Schwarzenegger was remarkably complementary about the enormous long range vision shown by Brown during his first two administrations (1975-1983). He honored Brown for his successful efforts to set California on a sustainable energy and resource path, a path others have followed.

Indeed, Schwarzenegger pointed out that if the remainder of the United States had taken the same or similar steps as has California, the nation could have since shut down 75 percent of all coal-fired electrical generating plants.

SDG&E’s CEO, Jessie J. Knight, Jr., gave one of the more heartfelt speeches in which he several times repeated that SDG&E is “building the utility of the future” and “a better world.”

While not described in detail, it has become apparent from actions taken over the last 3 years that key features include providing power for electrified group and individual transportation by planning for and building power infrastructure for electric and pluggable hybrid vehicles, expanding demand-side (customer-side) communication and conservation through the Smart-grid and individual Smart Meters, and decarbonizing – getting the carbon out of -- electricity production as much and as soon as possible.

Sempra and SDG&E are not waiting to respond to global warming, they are acting now to aggressively adopt new methods which will usher in and broadly deploy wind, solar PV and energy storage technologies to create a truly sustainable energy system. With the construction of the Sunrise Powerlink, SDG&E has taken a huge step forward in fulfilling that commitment.

For this Herculean effort I applaud and thank SDG&E and encourage representatives from government and environmental, business and civic groups to quickly resolve to aid SDG&E in its overall effort, to hold them up as a shining example of what we must do in order to rapidly and effectively meet the severe challenges created by global warming.

It is only through tapping and supporting the thoughtful expertise of those who provide us with electrical energy in a safe and effective manner, that we will build the sustainable energy systems of the future. Indeed, electricity produced by means which do not produce greenhouse gases is and must be the future of our civilization, as, long term, we cannot continue to provide electricity produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

Put another way: greenhouse-gas free electricity must be the main form of energy in the future.

This summer, in the northern hemisphere we are reminded of what it means to add more and more long-lived greenhouse gases to the atmosphere: increasingly widespread and extraordinary retained heat, drought, desertification, habitat loss, crop losses, fire, storms and associated resource losses and human misery on a massive scale. With delay, things will only get worse.

Global warming is nature’s “blitzkrieg,” occurring in a mounting, overwhelming and unstoppable manner, everywhere, all the time. By striking at the core pillars of a healthy society (adequate food, water, shelter, energy and other natural resources), it is clear that global warming will quickly overwhelm any hope of adaption, leaving prevention as the only coherent course. We collectively face a broad range of emergencies and it is time to rapidly turn to concrete remedies and away from dithering debates and study.

We currently have the technology on our shelves; we merely need to rapidly deploy it.

After a decade of planning, advocating, fending off vociferous opponents, and going well above and beyond the call of duty in an effort to please one and all, including nearly every demand of environmentalists, SDG&E has moved ahead in its efforts to provide what our society needs: sustainable, renewable electricity generated from wind and sunlight.

Thanks again to all of the people who patiently planned and built the Sunrise Powerlink, and especially to those who are now quickly building the “utility of the future.” Thank you for your determination and resolve to do the right thing.

Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at daniel.coffey@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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