SDG&E, Advocates Agree On Wind Project

SDG&E wanted to meet renewable energy requirements by building a wind turbine in Montana with your money. Because of TURN’s advocacy, SDG&E promised to meet its renewable energy goals with green power produced in California until after 2018 and to guarantee that ratepayers would be paid back before shareholders.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and two consumer advocacy groups have agreed on a plan to finance a Montana wind turbine generator that should let the project go forward, the utility said Monday.

The deal to finance Rim Rock, a 189-megawatt wind turbine project, shrank the project from 309 megawatts, protected ratepayers’ investment in the project, and came with an agreement to stop building out-of-state renewable power generators through 2018, advocates and the utility said.

The utility also announced a deal with Sol Orchard LLC to install 50 megawatts of solar power in 21 San Diego County locations, and a 30-megawatt project with French company Soitec in three locations in the county. Power built closer to where it’s used often costs more, thanks to high land prices, but money can be saved by reducing transmission costs.

Jim Avery, SDG&E senior vice president for power supply, said he was pleased to have the Rim Rock project agreement.

"I’m really excited about it," Avery said. "This is a model that can be replicated here in California."

SDG&E first proposed backing the wind turbine in 2008, when other financing fell through and a credit freeze occurred worldwide. The Utility Reform Network and the Division of Ratepayer Advocates objected to the deal because it put ratepayer money at risk to build a generator that would pump electrons north into Alberta, Canada, in exchange for tradable renewable energy credits.

Under the new deal, SDG&E agreed not to build projects out of state for credits until after 2018, and it agreed to shrink the project’s size. It put a cap on ratepayer investment at $250 million, down from a potential $600 million investment, said Matt Freedman, a staff attorney at TURN. SDG&E also agreed to invest 10 percent of its shareholders’ money into building the project, and to guarantee that ratepayer money would be paid back first.

"No utility has made an agreement to put their money behind ratepayers in line," Freedman said. "To put this kind of shareholder money at risk, that’s a notable feature."

The deal must be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The solar agreements will pave the way for new solar projects distributed around the county. Jeff Brothers, Sol Orchard president, said most of the installations will be 2 megawatts or smaller, and at least some will be installed in Valley Center and Ramona, as well as East County locations. Of the 50 megawatts it plans to build, 30 megawatts will use concentrated photovoltaic generators in which mirrors focus the sunlight for higher efficiency.

Soitec, the French company that builds solar panels in San Diego, will build two 5-megawatt installations, and one of 20 megawatts in East San Diego County.

These agreements also must be approved by the commission.