Assemblyman Perez pushes for community support for his renewable energy bill

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Geothermal plant on Salton Sea
Geothermal plant on Salton Sea

PALM DESERT — Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez is looking for support from Coachella Valley officials and business leaders for an ambitious bill to push California utilities to procure more than half of their power from renewable resources, including geothermal energy from the Salton Sea.

“This is a big lift,” the Imperial Valley and Coachella Democrat said, speaking about Assembly Bill 177 at the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership’s Renewable Energy Roundtable on Thursday. “We have to figure out ‘What do people in Riverside and Imperial counties feel?’ Is it feasible? Are people willing to engage and think about it, and think about it as an element of the restoration of the Salton Sea?”

The bill, which Pérez introduced earlier this year, would push the state’s renewable energy target from 33 percent in 2020 to 51 percent in 2030. It would also establish a new approach to energy planning for the state’s utilities, requiring them to consider energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reduction and grid reliability in addition to cost.

The bill also singles out geothermal and other renewable energy resources at the Salton Sea as a possible focus for future development. Tapping into renewables at the sea has been looked at as a possible source of much-needed funds to counteract the inland lake’s shrinking and the danger of dust blowing down valley from its exposed lake bed.

Introduced as a two-year bill, Pérez described AB 177’s status as “parked” in the Assembly’s Utilities and Commerce Committee.

The extent of local support would be gauged by business and city leaders’ willingness to write letters endorsing the legislation or to travel to Sacramento to testify at hearings, he said.

Developer Tom Noble of Noble & Co., who was at the roundtable, said the initiative should be kept on the table, emphasizing its link to the Salton Sea.

“Anything we can do to keep the Salton Sea issue in the forefront is important,” he said.

Wesley Ahlgren, chief operating officer of CVEP, sees the higher price of renewables — and their impact on local electric bills — as a possible obstacle.

“We’re trying to attract business to the Coachella Valley and one of the things on their checklist is, what are the energy rates?” he said.

Pérez had hoped to generate more local discussion on the bill at a public meeting of the Assembly’s Select Committee on the Renewable Energy Economy in Rural California, which he chairs, originally scheduled for Sept. 27 at the Imperial Irrigation District’s La Quinta offices.

Jacqueline Lopez, a spokeswoman for Pérez, said that meeting has been postponed to ensure that key legislators from Sacramento can attend, including Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, who chairs the Utilities and Commerce Committee. No new date has been set.

Coachella Mayor Eduardo Garcia said more work will be needed to see if the bill can win community support.

“I’m looking around the room as he’s sharing about the bill. I didn’t see too many heads nodding one way or the other,” said Garcia, who has announced he will run for the 56th Assembly District seat next year when Pérez will leave under term limits. “Policy needs to be driven by the community.”