6/22/14 – Our View: Geothermal bill good for the Valley, good for the state

From Imperial Valley Press, 6-22-2014

Senate Bill 1139, the California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program, was tailor-made for the Imperial Valley, as it focuses on the proliferation of the geothermal industry as an eventual revenue-generator for helping the Salton Sea.

That fact is undeniable, and no one would go out of their way to dispute that point.

But it really is more than that, and it will benefit more than Imperial County and those directly around the Salton Sea.

Next week it is poised to take on another important hurdle. As it wends its way through the Assembly, following passage in the state Senate, the bill must pass through two committees, two more than local driver of the bill the Imperial Irrigation District would like to see.

Still, district officials say every hurdle from here on is critical. The next one is the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.

There are outside forces that clearly don’t want to see SB 1139 pass; utilities in the immediate region are saying power rates in the state will go up if geothermal energy is a mandated part of the power portfolio.

But according to IID officials, rates will have to go up regardless if geothermal is part of the portfolio, as the so-called “flexible resources” being bandied about as alternatives require heavy infrastructure and the importation of more natural gas and fossil fuels.

That’s hardly green, and hardly a case for SB 1139 sending up power prices.

Energy rates rising is a compelling argument that crosses many fronts, but the sooner the public realizes rates cannot stay stable anywhere in a country and state battling greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel independence, support to the bill will warm.

Yet the bigger idea for this newspaper, as a member of the Imperial Valley community, is the economic benefit. Solar and wind have been great for us in terms of construction jobs, property taxes, some public benefits payouts and community goodwill, but it’s geothermal that is proven, consistent, entrenched here and has provided a strong base for many families and the county. Hundreds of locals are employed by the industry, and hundreds more could benefit in the future.

One of the most important aspects for us, though, is the revenue this could generate to push forward remedies for the Salton Sea. We already know there will be exposed playa coming our way, that mitigation water is only in the hopper for a finite time, and that the future of the sea will only worsen.

Through all of this, the state is nowhere to be found, with no money and no real commitment to bankroll the fixes. SB 1139 could, and will, even if on a smaller scale, fund efforts to stop the bleeding and preserve the sea.

Lest it is believed that SB 1139 benefits us only and not the state in a larger sense, that is false. Renewable portfolio standards for the state will only increase, to meet promised increases and to further clean the air. And, there are long-term problems that a dried up Salton Sea could create for the entire state. Respiratory problems, hospitalizations, aerosolized playa will effect the overall public health and related costs in the state, and surely agriculture would be effected.

This time might be different, though. IID is used to being odd man out, flying solo against outside interests in energy operation as well as water. But the district has support from some very heavy hitters in labor unions, the electrical workers, and environmental groups in the Sierra Club and the Pacific Institute, to name a few.

We hope their support, and that fact that this is a good bill — for the Valley, for jobs, for the sea, for the state — will be enough to make it happen.