Officials tour Imperial County renewable energy facilities
Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella), along with other government officials, tours a geothermal facility Friday in Calipatria. (ALEJANDRO DAVILA PHOTO)
Before holding a 2 1/2-hour hearing on the Renewable Energy Economy in Rural California in El Centro, Pérez, D-Coachella, and a group of government officials toured wind farms in Palm Springs, a solar facility in Niland and a geothermal plant in Calipatria.
The tour was organized by Pérez, Imperial County’s Assembly representative, who in part wanted “to have a better understanding of the (renewable energy) issues as a whole.”
And because he is looking to push renewable energy policy in Sacramento, Pérez invited officials such as Assemblymen Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim, and Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, to the tour.
To have members of the state Assembly informed about renewable energy makes the promotion of policy easier, Pérez said.
Their first stop in the county was at Sun Peak Solar’s facility in Niland, where they met with company Chief Executive Officer David Rennie.
During the 15-minute tour, the assemblymen asked about the challenges behind setting up a solar farm and the amount of energy that this particular facility will generate once it goes online next month.
Some 14,000 homes will be serviced with 99,000 panels, according to Rennie.
He also said during the tour that the cost to set up such a plant is “a lot” and that he faced “every possible challenge,” from permitting to labor-related issues.
Solorio and Williams left the tour after Niland. But it seemed the visit was fruitful for them nonetheless.
“I think it’s always important to know where these projects are happening,” said Williams.
Niland’s solar farm is a visual proof that the state’s policy moves “will help us power us into the future,” he said.
For Solorio, it was “worth coming out here and learn about the solar power being generated here.”
“These are top-notch projects” that should be congratulated, he said.
The tour then moved on to CalEnergy’s geothermal facilities in Calipatria, which can provide energy to more than 200,000 homes.
Mark Gran, vice president of real estate assets for CalEnergy, was the tour guide.
With the demise of coal and nuclear power, and the rise of solar and wind, geothermal energy is the only viable option to provide steady service, Gran said.
As the tour drew to an end, Pérez asked what ideas he should take from the geothermal facility.
Financial incentives for geothermal facilities “are going away next year,” Gran responded. And to set up such a plant “is a risky business.”
Agriculture is “key” for California’s rural communities, Pérez said moments before the hearing, but there is a need to diversify these economies as well.
And though there are jobs and revenue to be obtained, there are also challenges, he said.
For Pérez the next step is to figure out costs of the transmission of energy and procedures. Permitting processes are perhaps too lengthy, he said.
But he is also aware that there is opposition to renewable energy in communities like the Imperial County.
When asked about the recent protest during the Imperial Valley Renewable Energy Summit & Expo, Pérez responded that opposing voices have an opinion to be respected.
“I think it’s important that we respect Mother Earth and I do think it’s important that we also respect the value of the sacred sites,” he said.
“But at the same time — what’s the alternative,” Pérez said. “We have to think that through as well.”