Energy secretary hears power plant concerns

October 19, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Imperial Valley's congressman, Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, sat down with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham recently and told him about the concerns Imperial Valley residents have about two power plants under construction in Mexicali.

Valleyites won't know if Abraham acted on those concerns until the Department of Energy approves or denies San Diego-based Sempra Energy a presidential permit to build a natural gas pipeline in the desert of eastern Imperial County.

That decision won't be made until next spring.

Hunter's spokesman, Michael Harrison, said Hunter's recent meeting with Abraham means he won't be signing a letter being circulated by Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, that addresses environmental concerns with the power plants. Filner, if re-elected, will replace Hunter as the Imperial Valley's congressman.

Harrison said, "Hunter is fully supportive of (the letter) but is not signing it because he's made his arguments to Abraham in person."


One of the solutions discussed by Hunter and Abraham, according to Harrison, would allow the U.S. government to offer benefits to U.S. companies that build power plants here.

"Look, there are a number of concerns here. We should build those plants in Imperial County. We could make sure those regulations are up to par," Harrison said.

Harrison acknowledged the federal government can't control U.S. companies that do business in Mexico if the companies comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We can't force them to do anything but we can offer them benefits to make them build here. This would bring about safer environmental regulations and jobs to the Valley," Harrison said.

San Diego-based Sempra Energy and Boston-based InterGen are already building separate power plants in Mexicali.

The only parts of those plants' future operations under U.S. review are a natural gas pipeline that is planned for the desert of eastern Imperial County and an electrical transmission lines from the plants that will connect with the San Diego Gas & Electric substation north of Mount Signal.

The public comment period for the transmission line project has passed but the comment period for the pipeline project ends Oct. 25.

The project must be approved by state agencies before the Department of Energy will rule on their decision.

If Sempra is denied a DOE presidential permit to build the pipeline in Imperial County, a new Sempra-bank rolled shipping port in Ensenada and connector pipeline from that port could provide the fuel needed for the plants by 2004.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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