More transmission needed to incorporate renewables in California’s Imperial Valley

California’s Imperial Valley, a sparsely populated area between San Diego County, Calif., and the Arizona border, has outstanding potential for renewable energy generation but lacks adequate transmission, according to several industry participants.

The Sunrise Powerlink, being constructed by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) to carry renewable energy from the town of El Centro, Calif,. to San Diego, isn’t enough, the participants said.

“It’s very critical to take advantage of the resource-rich nature of the Imperial Valley from a solar standpoint,” Timothy Simon, commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), told TransmissionHub at the EnergyBiz Leadership Forum on March 21, adding it is also important to increase the number of “routes that Californians have to receive and generate electricity.”

“It is an area that has been cited as [one that] can generate an enormous amount of megawatts of solar energy,” Simon continued. “It makes sense that the region have the capability, not only for Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric but also for the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), to take advantage of those rich resources.”

An official with the IID agreed with Simon’s assessment of the area’s potential as well as with his assessment that more lines are needed.

“The [Sunrise Powerlink] is being filled up by Imperial Valley projects and by-passing the Imperial Irrigation District,” according to IID General Manager Kevin Kelley, who spoke to TransmissionHub on March 20.

He pointed out that the line will “jump over IID’s balancing authority area.”

SDG&E agrees that the area has significant potential. “Studies indicate that the mega-region [of] the Imperial Valley, along with San Diego County and Baja, Calif., is capable of producing a potential of more than 12,000 MW of renewable electricity,” an SDG&E spokesperson told TransmissionHub on March 20.

The utility believes the 117-mi, 500-kV Sunrise Powerlink will be a big part of tapping that potential, the spokesperson said.

Simon said there would be additional benefits to an increased number of power lines.

“This is a community that, to a large extent, is in need of economic development,” Simon said of the Imperial Valley. “Transmission can bring that economic development.”

He added, “There’s also a need for the ability to bring additional power into communities, additional transmission” to create redundancy and enhance safety.

The commissioner also said he does not view it as being just for renewable energy. “Electrons are electrons,” he said, concluding that, “transmission is progress.”

SDG&E is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE).