The sun shines hot and pretty much all year round in southern California’s Imperial Valley. There’s also a lot in the way of flat, open land, which makes it an ideal place for large-scale solar energy systems, attributes that haven’t gone unnoticed by solar power project developers and the state’s power utilities, which are on track to meet, if not surpass, legislated renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets that are among the most ambitious in the nation.
Given advances in solar PV systems and technology, and so much in the way of solar insolation, producing large amounts of electricity from the sun’s rays in the Imperial Valley now poses less of a problem than getting it to densely populated urban and suburban areas, which requires building out high-voltage transmission lines and other grid infrastructure with the built-in smarts to regulate and the capacity to store an intermittent flow of electricity.
At tremendous cost and effort, it looks like nearly all the pieces of this clean energy jigsaw puzzle have come together: this past week Tenaska Imperial Solar South announced it was the first utility-scale solar power facility to send electricity to San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) 117-mile-long Sunrise Powerlink high-voltage transmission line.
Imperial Valley Solar Energy Milestone
In June 2012, SDG&E announced it had completed the five-year project and put into service the Sunrise Powerlink, a $1.9 billion, 500,000-volt transmission line that provides a power link between the Imperial Valley and San Diego.
On May 29, Tenaska Imperial Solar Energy Center South announced it was the first large-scale solar energy facility to deliver clean, renewable electricity to the Sunrise Powerlink.
More than 130 Imperial Valley business and government leaders, landowners, and local and state officials were on hand to celebrate a “Power On” event, joining representatives from Tenaska, SDG&E, and First Solar, the project’s primary solar module supplier and construction contractor, according to a Tenaska Solar Ventures’ press release CleanTechnica received by email.
Utility-Scale Solar PV Project Brings More Than Green Energy
The first utility-scale solar energy facility to break ground in Imperial Valley, Tenaska Imperial South “is one of the largest commercially financed solar projects in the US to date,” Tenaska Solar Ventures, the solar energy development affiliate of Omaha-based and independent Tenaska energy company Tenaska, notes.
In addition to helping assure grid integrity, avoiding carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, building Tenaska Imperial South will contribute a lot in the way of associated co-benefits.
The environmental risks and impact of the utility-scale solar PV facility are much less than equivalent fossil fuel or nuclear generating facilities, a sensitive issue in an area strongly influenced and defined by its unique and fragile flora, fauna, and ecosystems.
Of particular significance in the arid Imperial Valley and Southern California region is the water that will be conserved by producing electricity via solar PV as opposed to much more water-intensive fossil fuel extraction and refining, water that can now be allocated for other purposes.
Tenaska Imperial Solar South is also providing a much-needed green jobs and income boost. Hundreds of jobs were created during construction and, as of April 2013, the project had reported paying $1.5 million of a project total $3 million in Imperial County sales taxes.
Tenaska and First Solar made hiring local contractors and workers a priority: 70% of the more than 500 construction workers hired at the site to date reside in Imperial County communities, including Brawley, El Centro, Heber, Imperial, and Calexico, they noted.
Southern California’s Renewable Energy Superhighway
Tenaska Imperial South has the capacity to produce as much as 130 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable power, enough to supply some 44,000 California homes. Thanks to the Sunrise PowerLink, that power can now be carried across and serve SDG&E’s entire San Diego service base.
Initially able to carry up to 800 MW of electricity, Sunrise’s power-carrying capacity will eventually reach 1,000 MW, which is enough to supply some 650,000 homes.
“Putting the Sunrise Powerlink into service is the final milestone in a complex and challenging energy project that ranks among the largest and most significant in the history of San Diego Gas & Electric,” SDG&E chairman and CEO Jessie J. Knight, Jr. was quoted as saying in an SDG&E project report.
“Design, planning, construction and implementation of the project required scores of public hearings, detailed construction schedules to accommodate a wide array of environmental regulations and coordination of thousands of helicopter flights to ferry crews and material to the construction sites along the route.”
The Basis For A Green Power Economic Ecosystem
SDG&E and the California Independent System Operator (ISO), the agency that manages most of the state’s electricity grid, consider Sunrise Powerlink to be one of the important mitigation measures that will help maintain electric reliability during heat waves without power from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.”
SDG&E has signed eight renewable agreements for more than 1,000 MW of solar and wind power from projects in Imperial County over the past three years, all of which will be carried via the Sunrise Powerlink.
Just over 20% of the energy SDG&E has delivered to customers over the past two years has been sourced from renewable resources, according to the company. The Sunrise Powerlink is going to go a long way towards assuring that SDG&E is able to realize its plans to boost that percentage and meet California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) — which requires that 33% of SDG&E’s electricity be derived from renewable resources by 2020 — and state legislation AB32, the “Global Warming Solutions Act,” that mandates reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels the same year.
“This vital infrastructure project and the construction jobs that were created as a result have revitalized the Imperial Valley region, which has experienced high unemployment for years,” said Imperial County Board of Supervisor Gary Wyatt.
“The Sunrise Powerlink, which now provides the pathway for local renewable energy projects, enables us to develop Imperial County’s abundant renewable energy resources while also preserving our natural resources and native habitat.”
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