Rendering of Chocolate Mountains solar farm to be constructed by 8minutenergy Renewables in Imperial Valley. (Photo
It’s a new year, with new beginnings and the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation is hoping to cash in on a fresh start with the Imperial Irrigation District. The two agencies recently partnered up on a new energy strategy to boost the region’s economy, and so far, the deal has proven successful.
“Imperial Valley is relatively known in many parts of the world and great interest is generated when people learn about our renewable energy potential,” said Timothy Kelley, President and CEO of the IVEDC. “A great opportunity exists to build the economy with renewable energy production and ancillary businesses that support the green industry can also bring jobs to the region.”
Kelley said the IVEDC has worked hard to market the area: “What makes us unique is we’ve got probably the only county, maybe in the nation, that has an abundance of utility scale, renewable energy, in one location. Most areas only have solar.”
“People talk about renewable energy but we’ve actually been doing it,” said Kelley. “And we started the initiative before AB32 was signed. So we looked at what our industry clusters were, we identified renewable energy, so we started promoting it.”
The Imperial Irrigation District also has been working to attract more renewable energy development in the region. In 2008, it commissioned the Imperial Valley Renewable Energy Feasibility Study which assessed the renewable energy potential in the region.
“If these energy producers are aware of the renewable energy potential and available transmission capacity form the onset, we can engage their interest in coming to a region whose future can no longer wait,” said Carl Stills, assistant manager of geothermal development for IID.
Joining powers has already gotten results. In November, the Board of Supervisors approved a solar project billed as the world’s largest solar farm to be built by 8minutenergy Renewables. And another project by Tenaska Solar will be one of the largest in the U.S., said Kelley.
“They’re looking to put in their millionth panel in March,” added Kelley. “Then we have about three more projects that have been permitted and will begin construction around that time for solar and others. These are big projects too, ranging from 150-250 megawatts.”
With these projects, comes lots of jobs and, with an unemployment rate of 28 percent in Imperial County, this is welcome news.
“One of the misnomers about solar is that you have this construction for the projects, then those jobs go away,” said Kelley. “Well, the reality is we’ve got 10 projects, so the construction on these projects will take us into the next five to seven years, if not into 2020. They’ll finish one job and immediately start another job. Besides that, you’ve got the operations and maintenance on each project. It’s about three jobs per megawatt. It’s realistic to say in 2013 there will be over a thousand people working.”
“We’ll continue to market the region. We’ve already got companies who have moved to Imperial Valley taking advantage of our resources and the ability to manage projects as large as 230 megawatts. The IVEDC also has a business services program to help retain businesses.”
And with the Renewable Energy Conference coming up in March, it’s just another boost for the local economy.
“About 550 to 650 people attend,” said Kelley. “The conference puts us on the map because it’s the only conference where people are actually doing projects where the conference is being held–land solar, bio fuels. They’re coming from all over: Spain, Germany, China and South America.”
2013 looks like a promising year for the Imperial Valley.