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Sunrise Powerlink: No help in Blackout

Citizens Oversight (2011-09-19) Raymond Lutz

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On September 8, 2011, a hot, muggy day, San Diego county went dark at about 3:40pm. The first question being asked is whether the Sunrise Powerlink would have done any good. It's a good question because we are in the process of spending at least $1.3 billion of ratepayer money on the project. With my master's of science degree in electrical engineering and the countless hours I've spent in in recent public meetings about the Sunrise Powerlink, I have some intuition about what probably went wrong and whether the Powerlink would have helped.

Let me start with the answer. The Sunrise Powerlink would not have helped us at all under the same conditions, except the lights may have gone off a bit faster.

Without question, the power system in San Diego County has a severe stability problem. How did it happen? In my view, the instability is akin to the problem with the Tacoma Narrows bridge, (See and like that old car that starts to jitter at a one particular speed.

Here's what I believe happened. The worker in Arizona was doing some work and turned off some power in a substation, causing the voltage to drop on the line. This discontinuity wave traveled through the system at just under the speed of light, from Yuma, to San Diego, and then up to San Onofre, taking about 9 seconds to travel the 200 miles or so from the substation. On the other side of the discontinuity, there is a generating station, and as soon as it sensed the low voltage condition, it will turn the voltage up to compensate. 9 to 20 seconds later, the glitch hits San Onofre, and it turns up a bit to compensate, but then a few seconds later, it sees the increase from Arizona, and it turns down, the glitch reflects back to the first station and it turns up, etc. If it takes a few seconds o to turn up the power plant, and then turn it back down, you can get into a situation, like the Tacoma Narrows bridge where if you don't stop everything, it will get bigger and bigger, and in no time, start to blow out equipment in stations throughout the network.

The Sunrise Powerlink does not generate any power. Not one kilowatt hour. And it does not extend outside the system to add any power that might stabilize the system. It is more like adding another cable to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge somewhere in the middle. It would not change the underlying resonance problem.

The other important thing to realize is that even if the Powerlink were completed today, it would do nothing at all because the end does not connect to much of anything. I asked this question point blank to SDG&E engineers, and they had to admit that the local network does not have enough capacity to do much with the power coming off the Powerlink. It's like building a 10-lane freeway which narrows down to a sidewalk at the end. Of course, if you study the Sunrise Powerlink, you will quickly learn that the system is not for green energy from the desert for San Diego, as they always say. It is power from generating stations in Mexicali, south of the border, and the ultimate destination is the Los Angeles market. It has nothing to do with green energy because SDG&E refused to say that even 1% of the power would be from renewable sources -- even when they are required to get at least 20% of their power from renewable sources. The fact that they would not agree to even 1% exposed their true agenda. Plus, they had to admit to the administrative law judge that they always intended to connect this to the LA market.

The Sunrise Powerlink is a bad project that takes us in the wrong direction. It puts people to work, but they are doing the wrong thing. It is very, very profitable for SDG&E, and that is where the logic ends.

The sad thing is that it takes coal to make the many tons of steel in the 421 towers, energy to make the concrete, and water for all steps in the construction operation. We should be using these precious resources to create the renewable infrastructure that is absolutely required in our future.

The real solution is to make sure there is more generating capacity within the San Diego basin. I have been told that SDG&E was in violation of local generation minimums, allowing the oscillation to begin. This county should be much, much farther along the path to installing solar energy. We have plenty of sun, and it was a hot sunny day on September 8.

But Sempra Energy is facing a very stark reality. They can't charge us for the power that we generate ourselves using solar panels. If we put in the solar energy systems and related technology that we should be installing, Sempra might see their revenue drop from $8 billion down to maybe $4 billion. That's a lot of money to be watching fall off the table. So despite all the green talk you will hear out of SDG&E and Sempra Energy, there is no way they want to rush this along.

But despite all the foot dragging, this step is critically important for us to accomplish. Installing solar energy systems puts people to work just like the Sunrise Powerlink, and in fact probably quite a few more workers. But the big difference is that we generate our own power, right here, and we stop needing to buy imported energy, the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Sempra intends to transport from Asia to their new LNG terminal in La Costa Azul Mexico, across the 30" north Baja pipeline, to those powerplants in Mexicali. Every dollar Sempra does not use to buy that power is a dollar that continues to circulate in our economy, and a dollar that will support another job. You make that change, and you will see the 160,000 jobs we are missing in this county materialize.

Sorry, the Sunrise Powerlink is still a bad idea. It is still only profiteering for SDG&E, and it is going in the wrong direction for our future energy needs. And it does us no good to stop any future blackout.


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Title Sunrise Powerlink: No help in Blackout
Publisher Citizens Oversight
Author Raymond Lutz
Pub Date 2011-09-19
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Keywords Energy Policy, Sunrise Powerlink
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Topic revision: r3 - 2011-09-20, RaymondLutz

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