Plans for upgrading California’s Path 42 hit snag

The Imperial Irrigation District’s (IID) plan to build a transmission line to move locally produced renewable energy out of California’s Imperial Valley hit a snag Aug. 7 when the IID’s board of directors failed to reaffirm an August 2011 decision to move the project forward. 

At issue was the ability of the IID to obtain reimbursement for the $25.9m it would cost to upgrade more than 20 miles of Path 42 to a 230-kV power line that could move up to 600 MW of power from Imperial County through the Coachella Valley. 

“A past energy manager had given us some bogus information about what was going on” with regard to the revenue necessary to finance the project, board vice-president Matt Dessert told TransmissionHub Aug. 8.

According to Dessert, the district’s previous energy manager told the board that almost all the renewable energy projects that would use the line had signed power purchase agreements (PPAs). Over time, however, the board saw more presentations from renewable energy developers that indicated they did not have PPAs in place. Without such agreements, there is no guarantee that the renewable energy developers would have the ability to reimburse the IID.

“We’re limited on resources, trying to do the best we can for our ratepayers, so we need to be consistent and careful as we move forward,” Dessert said.

With two members in favor and two opposed, the tie vote defeated the proposed reaffirmation of last year’s decision. A fifth seat on the board is vacant and will not be filled until the Nov. 6 general election, he said.

The IID has an agreement to build the Path 42 upgrade in cooperation with Southern California Edison (SCE). That agreement calls for IID to build 20.1 miles of line from Coachella Valley to the Devers-Mirage transmission system. The Devers-Mirage system is a group of 115-kV transmission lines owned by SCE that serve an area of Riverside County near Palm Springs. 

IID officials have expressed concern that development of other transmission and generation projects, like the recently completed Sunrise Powerlink that bypasses the IID’s balancing authority area, could prove detrimental. Sunrise Powerlink is a 117-mile, 500-kV line built by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) to bring renewable energy from El Centro to San Diego, Calif. Sunrise Powerlink was energized in June.

“Solar generation projects are being built within our balancing authority and yet, they’re not interconnecting and we’re not getting any system build-out or benefit for our balancing authority,” Dessert said. “We have to make sure our system doesn’t decline because it doesn’t have any new growth or new energy going into it.”

If the Path 42 upgrade isn’t built and another entity was to build transmission into IID’s territory, that could also place IID’s balancing authority at risk.

“We’re trying to retain some kind of autonomy and position to benefit our area,” Dessert said.

“We are concerned if we [lose our balancing authority and] are forced to join the California ISO, it would result in about a 25% increase to our ratepayers” due to socialized costs, he added.

Although Dessert voted against reaffirming the 2011 approval, he said he is solidly in support of the Path 42 upgrade project, noting that the Aug.7 vote did not negate the August 2011 approval.

“This is going to happen; it’s just a matter of timing,” Dessert said. “There’s no way this [vote] should be construed as something that’s going to turn off or shut down the Path 42 build-out.” In large measure, he said, it was meant to send a public message to IID staff and other agencies involved about the importance of providing accurate information to the board.

“Rest assured, it will happen.” Dessert said. “Path 42 or somewhere else, it will happen.”

SCE is a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE:EIX).

SDG&E is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE).