State Panel Focuses on Salton Sea Geothermal

By Published On: June 28, 2013

Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) hopes to leverage Imperial Valley’s geothermal and algae farming potential to meet the state’s renewable energy goal while creating revenue to restore the beleaguered Salton Sea. A variety of state officials, power industry managers, and renewable energy industry representatives told the San Diego lawmaker the valley could see another 2,000 MW of geothermal power developed, particularly if policies are changed. “Geothermal is a wonderful fit,” said Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies executive director V. John White at a June 27 hearing by Hueso’s State Senate Select Committee on California’s Energy Independence. However, White said the California Public Utilities Commission’s long-term procurement process allows utilities to concentrate on the lowest cost sources of power to backup intermittent wind and solar power, which generally means gas-fired power plants. Modifying the process to concentrate on environmental impacts and long-term value, instead of just the lowest cost, could give the valley’s geothermal industry a big boost, he said. Currently, the valley has about 400 MW of geothermal power production capacity, noted Vincent Signorotti, Energy Source vice president. Energy Source, he said, operates a 50 MW plant in the valley near the Salton Sea. Imperial Irrigation District general manager Kevin Kelly said developing geothermal power could provide enough money for the region to restore the Salton Sea, which faces long-term disappearance. The problem is that water once used for agriculture is being transferred to coastal cities. This means agricultural drainage water—the landlocked body of water’s biggest source of replenishment—no longer feeds the Salton Sea as much. Agricultural drainage is supposed to end entirely in 2017 through more efficient irrigation and transfer of more water to the coast, meaning the sea will dry out, said Keali Bright, California Natural Resources Agency deputy secretary. Without mitigation, that could create a blowing dust problem. Hueso said he will weigh information presented at the hearing in potentially crafting legislation aimed at spurring geothermal power and algae farming in the valley as a way of funding restoration of the sea.

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