CA-Baja Accord Aims to Tap Border Renewables

By Published On: October 23, 2009

A deal between California and Baja California to promote renewable energy could pave the way for developing the rich solar, wind, and geothermal resources that straddle the border. “It’s very good for both sides,” said Alan Sweedler, director of the Center for Energy Studies and Environmental Sciences at San Diego State University. The border region--with 6 million people--is a natural area for trade in a wide variety of goods and services, he said. “Energy is a glue for that,” said Sweedler. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a multipoint cooperation pact October 20, which includes a specific agreement between the California Energy Commission and Baja California Energy Commission on conservation and renewable energy. “Our common border makes us more than just neighbors,” said Schwarzenegger. “It makes us partners in working together to improve the lives of all border residents.” Under the agreement, the two states pledged to develop “a legal framework” to spur renewable power generation in the border region. The agreement also aims to foster greater energy efficiency and sharing of technology and expertise. With the California side of the border rich in solar energy and the Mexican side rich in wind energy, power could flow both ways across the border, said Sweedler. Scott Anders, director of the Energy Policy Initiatives Center at the University of San Diego, noted that San Diego already depends upon Baja for energy, particularly when other supplies are cut off due, for instance, to wildfires. The agreement comes as 5,000 MW of wind power projects are under investigation, discussion, or development just across the border in Baja California, according to David Muñoz Andrade, director general of the Baja California Energy Commission. One of the first renewable energy projects that may provide power to California from Baja is a Sempra Energy wind power project in the Sierra Juarez Mountains on the Mexican side of the border about 70 miles east of San Diego. Southern California Edison entered an agreement two years ago to buy the power from the project. Sempra spokesperson Art Larson said the company hopes to break ground on the wind project--known as Energía Sierra Juárez--in 2011. The project still requires permits, mostly from agencies on the U.S. side of the border. Sempra plans to build a three-mile transmission tie line into the Southwest Powerlink transmission line on the U.S. side of the border that is set to interconnect through a new San Diego Gas & Electric substation being planned near Jacumba in East San Diego County. The project initially is projected to deliver up to 125 MW of power in 2012. It eventually could be built out to more 1,000 MW, said Larson. Baja California has a growing demand for power and is seeking to cut greenhouse gases because Mexico is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. However, because it is isolated from the Mexican mainland’s grid, it needs to develop local sources of power. Sweedler said these factors make Baja California a potential growth market for companies seeking to invest in renewable energy development. He added that lack of financing and need for new transmission capacity across the border remain hurdles. Current cross-border transmission capacity is almost fully used to move power made from fossil fuel. Baja California also has extensive geothermal resources. It has a 720 MW plant, Cerro Prieto, outside Mexicali and it could be upgraded to as much as 1,200 MW, according to the San Diego Regional Renewable Energy Study Group. Baja’s Energy Commission also is helping to develop rooftop photovoltaic and small-scale hydropower generation, according to Muñoz. This week’s pact between California and Baja California follows an agreement between the two states late last year pledging cross-border cooperation on reducing greenhouse gases.

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