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Sunrise Powerlink starts preconstruction transmission line work

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After years of protest and anticipation from the public and officials, the San Diego Gas & Electric Sunrise Powerlink project is getting under way. SDG&E, a Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE) subsidiary, began on Thursday four projects that are prerequisites to the actual construction of the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line.

"This does mark the initial step for the Powerlink project," said Jennifer Ramp, SDG&E spokesperson.

The work will include renovations and improvements to two existing substations, a construction staging yard and a temporary field office. The South Bay Substation, located in Chula Vista, and the San Luis Rey Substation, based in Oceanside, will receive infrastructure repairs to upgrade and maintain SDG&E's overall electrical system and help deliver the renewable energy from the Powerlink transmission line.

According to Ramp, the new infrastructure will be within the fenced substations and no interruptions in electrical service or traffic delays are expected due to construction.

"All these projects will not be visible to the public," Ramp said.

The construction staging yard, located in Alpine, will be a temporary storage facility for materials, equipment and worker vehicles. Construction materials and equipment will be delivered to this site, unloaded, temporarily staged and ultimately transported to designated construction areas.

The temporary field office will also be in Alpine and have a series of connected mobile office units, sanitary facilities and parking facilities for workers. The office will be dismantled and removed upon completion of the Sunrise Powerlink project, and the site will be restored to its present condition. SDG&E has arranged and secured a lease term of three years for these sites.

No overhead or underground transmission line construction work will be performed at the substations, storage yard or field office. These preliminary jobs are expected to be finished within the next eight to 10 weeks, according to Ramp. SDG&E and Par Electrical Contractors Inc. will be heading up the work.

The actual construction of the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line is scheduled to start later this fall, but Ramp could not give a specific month or day. Once completed, the $1.3 billion Sunrise Powerlink project will be an approximately 120-mile transmission line that will transport up to 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy from the Imperial Valley to San Diego through solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal plants. The entire project is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.

The project is expected to create 400-500 construction jobs and facilitate thousands more from renewable energy projects in Imperial Valley.

The framework for the Sunrise Powerlink got rolling after the California Public Utilities Commission reaffirmed its December 2008 vote, by voting 4-1 to deny requests for rehearing the case. The project has been met with strong opposition because the transmission lines will run through the backcountry of Imperial and San Diego counties, posing a fire risk to the region.

The CPUC found no legal errors in the four-year-long case, so a rehearing was rejected. The federal Interior Board of Land Appeals also denied a motion to halt all planning, preconstruction and construction activities related to the transmission line. The board rejected in its entirety the opponents' request, stating they failed to show any likelihood of "immediate and irreparable harm" if Sunrise activities were allowed to move forward.

Also, the U.S. Forest Service issued a record of decision in July 2010 approving the construction, operation and maintenance of a 19-mile segment of the transmission line through the Cleveland National Forest.

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