Imperial Valley Gets Some Sun

, Senior energy analyst | April 6, 2012, 5:53 pm EDT
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This week, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors gave the green light to a series of large-scale solar PV projects, totaling 600 MW of generation capacity, to be constructed in the Imperial Valley of California.

Bermuda grass in Imperial Valley. Image: Gerald Holmes, Valent USA Corp.,

New Life for Disturbed Lands

The projects have received support from four major conservation groups, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Audubon California. These groups commend the project developer for choosing to build on land that was previously used to grow Bermuda grass, a water-intensive crop, and contributing funds to protect the burrowing owl, a species that may be affected by the project.

Clean Air and Jobs

The projects could benefit Imperial Valley residents, many of whom are out of work and/or choking on dirty air. Imperial Valley is both home to some of the worst air quality (a grade “F” by the American Lung Association) and the highest unemployment in the country (27%). The project is expected to create approximately 700 jobs and generate enough pollution-free electricity to power over 200,000 homes.

Will the Local Utility Bring this Power Home?

200 MW of this electricity has already been purchased by San Diego Gas and Electric in a 25-year contract. I assume the project developer, 8minute energy, is looking for a buyer for the rest. This likely needs to happen before the projects can actually break ground.

I wonder whether Imperial Irrigation District (IID) is interested is purchasing the remaining electricity? UCS has been working on a report that analyzes the renewable energy investments made by the ten largest publicly-owned utilities from 2003 t0 2010 (IID is the third-largest publicly-owned utility in California). IID falls to the bottom of the bunch, achieving about 8 percent renewables by 2010, all of which came from existing small hydropower facilities that were built between 1930 and 1970. In contrast, several other publicly-owned utilities exceeded the state’s goal of 20 percent renewables by 2010. In March, IID adopted a plan to invest in more renewables, but the details are still unclear. All utilities are required to source 33 percent of their retail electricity sales from renewables by 2020.

I’ll write more about the upcoming report in future blog posts. For now, I am keeping my fingers crossed that IID capitalizes on its home court advantage and signs a contract for this power.

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