Solar Ramping Up On The Sunrise Powerlink

Imperial County’s big solar future is unfolding, and quickly, with projects popping up left and right along the Sunrise Powerlink.

Earlier this year, Tenaska Imperial South partially went online, becoming the first big solar plant to put power on the San Diego Gas & Electric transmission line built in large part to bring renewable energy from the deserts of far-south California to San Diego and its suburbs.

sunrise powerlink solar power

Installing panels at Tenaska Imperial South (image via San Diego Gas & Electric)

Tenaska Imperial South went online with 40 megawatts of First Solar panels, toward a final total of 130 MW. In August, SDG&E said the 170-MW Centinela and 139-MW Campo Verde projects, though also not yet complete, had begun generating electricity as well.

And just this week, First Solar said it broke ground on Solar Gen 2, a 150-MW project that is expected to be completed by next July. Campo Verde is also a First Solar project.

“First Solar is very exciting to begin construction on a third project in the Imperial Valley,” said Anthony Perrino, Construction Director. “With the support of county officials, IID and SDG&E, we are helping to deliver thousands of green jobs, millions of dollars in economic benefits, and clean, renewable energy for Southern California homes.”

A key to these projects is the Sunrise Powerlink, a 500,000-volt transmission line that stretches 117 miles through the desert and over the mountains from the Imperial Valley to San Diego and that cost nearly $1.9 billion to build, according to San Diego Gas & Electric. It went through five years of environmental review – drawing howls of protests and lawsuits from some residents near its path and environmentalists – and took 18 months to build.

The first renewables to crackle across its lines were from the Ocotillo Wind energy project, which began substantial operations late last year.

In all, SDG&E has signed agreements in place for renewable energy produced in the Imperial Valley totaling more than 1,200 MW of power. Like the other two big investor-owned utilities in California, Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, SDG&E is required by California’s renewable portfolio standard to source increasing amounts of energy from renewable sources, culminating in one-third renewables by 2020.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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