CALEXICO — It was a day of firsts at the Tenaska Imperial Solar Energy Center South on Thursday during the ceremonial placing of the first panel of what will make up the first large-scale solar facility to send electricity through the Sunrise Powerlink.
Elected officials, local leaders, San Diego Gas & Electric as well as Tenaska officials gathered at the site where nearly two million panels will be placed in the coming months to generate some 130 megawatts of power in late 2013. The project will power as many as 44,000 homes in San Diego throughout the 25-year life of the project, officials say.
Moreover, this project is helping SDG&E reach the state-mandated goal of having 33 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources. SDG&E is already about 20 percent renewable, said Jim Avery, SDG&E’s senior vice president of power supply. Avery also said that with this project and other similar projects in the pipeline, SDG&E will reach the 33 percent goal ahead of the 2020 deadline.
And though he couldn’t speculate on a specific time frame for that benchmark to be reached, Avery did say that “by this time next year we should have close to 1,000 megawatts of renewable (energy) flowing through the sunrise power link.”
This is a significant step in the county, said Bob Ramaekers, Tenaska vice president of development. “This project is the first large-scale solar project under construction in the county.”
Tenaska Imperial Solar Energy Center South was approved by the Board of Supervisors in May 2011. The project covers approximately 946 acres of privately owned former agricultural land, according to Tenaska’s website, and construction began late last year. In addition to this project, Tenaska has two other similarly sized projects in development in Imperial County, which has embraced solar energy harvesting in an unprecedented manner.
“Today is the beginning of a new industry in Imperial County — solar energy is going to be beneficial to the entire populace of the state of California,” said Supervisor Michael Kelley, who added that “on a local level, we are creating what we’ve been talking about for a long time: jobs, jobs, jobs.”
About 80 percent of the labor of this project is local, said Kelley with a smile, adding “we are absolutely utilizing the best resources of Imperial County to benefit our future.”
This renewable energy future — which includes wind, solar, geothermal and the newcomer, brine mineral extraction —could be fully developed in 10 to 12 years, Kelley theorized, “which brings a lot of employment for a lot of people.”
And like Kelley, one labor union seems grateful for renewable energy projects like Tenaska’s.
“Thanks to the pipeline of clean energy project in Imperial County with IBEW local hire agreements, we are putting local people to work,” said International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 business manager Johnny Simpson in a statement.
According to the IBEW statement, about 73 percent of the electrical workforce dispatched to the project is local and 93 percent of those hires are new apprentices and trainees.
One worker benefitting from the project is Calexico resident Ernesto Galvan, who’s been working for the company for about a year after being unemployed for a year. Renewable projects are the best thing that’s happened to the Valley, especially because of unemployment, said Galvan in Spanish, adding that he’s been able to develop a career thanks to solar panels.
And yet, not everybody in the county backs large-scale renewable energy projects, with some particularly displeased with solar projects built on agricultural land.
The argument of the opposition, which is in part comprised by environmentalist and some members of the agricultural sector, is that solar projects don’t create long-term employment. Furthermore, some environmentalists question sacrificing agricultural land and desert to tackle climate change, and instead propose rooftop solar as a better alternative.
Supervisors Kelley and Jack Terrazas welcome the idea of rooftop solar panels. However, “rooftop solar at this stage cannot provide commercial power — it’s just for local consumers,” said Terrazas moments before Kelley came back into the conversation.
“This is nothing more than the systematic progress of civilization and meeting the future with the proper resources,” Kelley said.
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or email@example.com
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