In IID’s view, geothermal energy development holds much promise for answering California’s needs. IID’s official letter of support for S.B. 1139 states, “New geothermal energy on the grid will help stabilize and balance California’s renewable portfolio by adding needed diversity to its reliance on intermittent resources like wind and solar.” (The California Wind Energy Association opposes the bill.)
The statement continues, “The policy direction of [S.B. 1139] could not come at a more critical juncture for the future of the Salton Sea. As you are already aware, the state’s statutory and contractual obligations to mitigate the effects of the country’s largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer and to restore the Salton Sea loom large in light of the rapidly approaching 2017 deadline that will cease deliveries of mitigation water into the Sea.”
The “2017 deadline” mentioned in IID’s letter is a contract known as the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement. The Agreement is scheduled to change water allotment in southern California. If nothing is done to help, this will have drastic effects including loss of foods grown in the region, greater unemployment, desert conditions, and specifically, loss of water to the Salton Sea.
Geothermal Will Bring Diversity While Combatting Habitat Decline and Pollution
The Sierra Club is supportive of geothermal as a key component of a diverse renewable energy mix, says Sarah K. Friedman, Senior Campaign Representative, Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club. Friedman sees this bill as having a meaningful impact for California in two ways.
First, she says, it supports the rapid decarbonization of California’s electricity grid. This requires “a diverse mix of clean resources,” she says. “Geothermal provides baseload energy and can balance wind and solar resources by providing power during periods of the day when wind and solar produce reduced power or no power at all, a role which might otherwise be served by fossil-fuel facilities with air and climate impacts. For these reasons, geothermal is integral for higher penetration of renewables without carbon and air quality impacts.”
Second, Friedman says, this bill provides the impetus for increased geothermal development at the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea is home to sensitive bird species and has key environmental impacts on local communities:
“The Salton Sea is located on the Pacific Flyaway, and is an important migratory stopover for many sensitive bird species,” says Friedman. “The Salton Sea has become an increasingly important refuge as the wetlands throughout California have been developed, and a reduced Salton Sea will cause dramatic habitat loss for species that can ill-afford it. Development of geothermal at the Salton Sea could, if properly structured, potentially fund much-needed habitat restoration efforts at the Salton Sea.”
Friedman adds, “A diminished Salton Sea poses a significant human health hazard, since receding water will expose more than 100,000 acres of lakebed, known as a playa, which is made up of silt and fine-grain soil and salt particles.
“This toxic dust can get lofted by desert winds and degrade air quality for residents in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, impairing public health by exacerbating respiratory conditions, in a region where childhood asthma rates are already three times higher than the state average and unemployment is rampant. It will also have significant impact on California and the nation’s food supply, as the area which is not only a major population center but serves as a major winter vegetable source and a large part of the nation’s food supply, which may be contaminated by dust and particles from the exposed playa.
Friedman concludes: “If properly sited and developed, geothermal development on the playa of the Salton Sea could minimize dust emissions, helping to avoid health impacts to the surrounding communities.”
Of course, it isn’t assumed that all 500 MW would be located in Imperial Valley. The Geysers area in northern California is another geothermal region with additional potential. The CEC would have until June 30, 2015 to determine the proportionate share for each retail seller.
Geothermal Industry Embraces Opportunity in California
Geothermal Energy Association members who actively supported the bill include: CalEnergy, Enel Green Power North America, Energy Source, MidAmerican Renewables, Ormat Technologies, and U.S. Geothermal.
California has a solid geothermal industry that provides more of the total system power (4.4% in 2012) than any other non-hydro renewable. The state’s total capacity is about 2,711 MW.
The Known Geothermal Resource Area in and around the Salton Sea of southern California contains around 2,000 MW of untapped geothermal energy. Overall, GEA estimates about 50% of California’s known resources are still untapped and much of that is ready to develop.
Industry experts have put their support behind the bill, indicating they are ready to fill the request for the additional 500 MW of geothermal power required by the bill.
“Enel Green Power North America is supportive of legislation that furthers geothermal expansion in California,” said Terry Page, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Enel Green Power North America.
“CalEnergy is eager to be a part of the California legislature’s renewed objective to recognize the unique values and attributes of geothermal generation within the renewable energy mix to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions along with an increase in the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard,” said Randy Keller, Director of Development, Transmission & Land Assets for CalEnergy.
“We commend Senator Hueso and Assemblymember Pérez for their persistence in spurring geothermal development in California,” said Heidi Bethel, Public Relations Manager at Ormat Technologies.
As of earlier this year, California’s industry reported 25 geothermal projects that are under development already. Geothermal projects often take about four to six years to complete. Projects qualifying under the potential new law would need to begin construction after January 1, 2015.
The Senate action is a positive sign, but the struggle to pass this landmark legislation is not over yet. However, if approved by the legislature, and signed by the Governor, the S.B. 1139 implementation timeline would be: