1/7/15 – Imperial County, IID officials respond to Gov. Jerry Brown’s energy plan

Imperial Valley Press, 1-7-2015

Imperial Irrigation District and Imperial County officials agree that the county is on track to reach a 2020 goal where 33 percent of electricity in the state comes from renewable energy, and as Gov. Jerry Brown proposes to increase that to 50 percent by 2030, they are confident Imperial County can do its part.

Governor Brown proposed three goals during his inaugural address on Monday including the increase of renewable sources as well as a 50 percent reduction of petroleum use in cars and truck, an increase in efficiency of existing buildings by double and cleaner heating fuels.

“I thought when they originally talked 33 percent, it was pretty ambitious … but the progress we’ve made towards that is fairly remarkable,” said Andy Horne, deputy county executive officer for natural resources development. “I see no reason why it isn’t attainable.”

A fairly large number of solar projects have been developing in the area, and the hope is that geothermal energy projects will grow. The county is already preparing to update the geothermal plan part of the Imperial County General Plan that is used as a guideline for where geothermal projects can be built, he said.

“The 50 percent requirement will push Imperial County to look outside the box,” Supervisor Mike Kelley said.

The county supervisors have been working to get solar off the farmland much of it currently occupies. In order to do so, the federal and state government needs to work with IID and the county to allow for renewable energy projects to be built on land such as the Bureau of Land Management, which makes up a good portion of county lands, Kelley said.

IID General Manager Kevin Kelley said this will help their Salton Sea Restoration initiative since there will be greater consideration for geothermal and there is a lot of untapped energy around that area.

“It’s the essential springboard that ought to tap into this pent-up demand for geothermal energy,” he said.

“On one hand, I’m encouraged by the ambitious (Renewables Portfolio Standard) goal,” Kelley added. “On the other, as an electric utility, it’s going to put upward pressure on our rates.”

Like Kevin Kelley, IID Energy Manager Carl Stills said he is concerned about the cost as well as how the energy grid will look when mandated.

Stills explained that solar energy brings too much intermittency to the grid and that a base load, such as geothermal, is needed to stabilize it.

Additionally, there is currently a disagreement over whether the transmission lines that transfer the solar energy are already at maximum capacity, said Kevin Kelley. An aggressive transmission expansion plan is already in front of the California ISO, which works to achieve California’s clean energy goals.

Stills said he has also already instructed resource planning staff to start looking at the Integrated Resource Plan and updating it with the new goals in mind. Because the governor’s goals are not a requirement right now, a lot of what will happen depends on how the legislation comes out later this year.

“We’ll be looking for the legislative process and the executive order with the bill behind it,” he said.

However the mandate comes down, Stills said he’s sure it’s something Imperial County can meet.

Imperial County Chairman John Renison said in addition to increasing the emphasis of renewable energy around the Salton Sea, they are working to help combat petroleum use in vehicles, another one of Brown’s goals.

The county has participated in the Carl Moyer program for more than 15 years. The program replaces the diesel engines of agricultural water pumps and tractors with new engines, helping to reduce the pollution associated with the old engines.

Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association, said the perfect opportunity to make the transition to even more renewable energy is right now because of low fossil fuel prices.

“We can build a solid base for California,” he said. “The opportunity is now to forge a new energy future.”