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FERC Approves Pipeline to Mexico

Energy: Gas-delivery project will stretch from southwest Arizona to electric power plants in Baja California.

January 17, 2002|CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Wednesday approved the construction of a gas pipeline from Arizona to Baja California, clearing the way for a major extension of the North American pipeline grid into the fast-growing border region of Mexico.

The 215-mile pipeline's main purpose is to deliver gas produced in U.S. and Canadian wells to several electric power plants under construction or already built in Baja California. Power generated at the plants will then be delivered to energy-hungry Baja consumers and manufacturers, as well as to California.

The pipeline someday could deliver northbound gas from Baja to the United States, if the liquefied natural gas terminals proposed for Baja materialize. Both Sempra Energy of San Diego and El Paso Corp. of Houston plan giant liquefied natural gas terminals on the Baja coast to meet gas shortages in Mexico and the southwest United States.

The international pipeline that will stretch from southwest Arizona to Tijuana was opposed by Imperial County environmental groups that say pollution in the Imperial Valley, already the highest in California by some measurements, would worsen from exhaust from the Baja power plants the pipeline will feed.

Opponents have 30 days to appeal the agency's ruling before construction begins, an agency spokeswoman said.

Partners on the pipeline project are Sempra Energy and PG&E National Energy Group of Bethesda, Md.

The 135-mile Baja portion of the pipeline already has been completed by Sempra. Construction of the PG&E Corp. unit's 80-mile U.S. portion can proceed now that the regulatory commission has approved a federal environmental study of the project.

Barring reversals, construction will begin next month with completion this summer in time to supply gas to a new 1,000-megawatt power complex under construction west of Mexicali by InterGen of Boston. As much as one-third of the InterGen facility's power will be exported to California.

The pipeline also will bring gas to a 500-megawatt plant being built in Mexicali by Sempra set to open in summer 2003. The line also will serve a oil-fueled power plant in Rosarito Beach, Baja California, owned by Mexico's federal utility, that is converting to gas.

Taking advantage of faster permit processing and more lenient environmental rules, U.S. companies are building or planning several gas-powered generators to supply growing demand in the region.

The Imperial County board of supervisors passed a resolution opposing a six-mile cross-border electricity transmission line connecting the new power plants with the U.S. grid unless InterGen uses cleaner-burning pollution technology on two of its four generators at the Mexicali project.

The new Sempra plant has incorporated the cleaner technology, Imperial County air quality officer Steve Birdsall said.

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