IID GM Kelley explains Salton Sea Initiative


 San Bernardino Museum Salton Sea


EL CENTRO – IID General Manager Kevin Kelley shared the presentation he gave to the Urban Water Institute on August 5 at the IID Board of Directors meeting of August 20.

He explained how restoration on the Salton Sea may be achieved through renewable energy generation.

“It occurs to me that the local public, like the water community, may only understand what we’re talking about when we talk about the Salton Sea Initiative by the key term sheet that the IID released some months ago,” said Kelley.

“Situated at the economic and environmental crossroads of the nation’s largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer and the future well-being of Southern California’s bi-national border region, the Salton Sea has reached a tipping point. Sustained mainly by agricultural runoff from the farms and fields of the Imperial Valley, the state’s largest and most troubled body of water has been in decline for a generation or more, a trend the 2003 signing of the Quantification Settlement Agreement was supposed to arrest and ultimately reverse.

But that hasn’t happened and today, while the transfer of water from the Imperial Irrigation District to urban water agencies – and the litigation surrounding it – continues to flow, a credible restoration plan for the Salton Sea remains as far off as it was a decade ago and the fundamental problem of what to do about it persists.

The solution lies within the sea itself.

That’s because the renewable energy development potential around and currently beneath the Salton Sea, including an estimated 2,000 megawatts of untapped geothermal energy, can provide the state and its ratepayers with a diverse resource stream of base load and intermittent energy that will promote grid reliability and serve as the funding and implementation springboard for restoration. At the same time, it will go a long way in bolstering the long-term viability of the QSA.

The plan is simple, realistic and achievable, relying on an updated version of the restoration model favored by the Salton Sea Authority and endorsed by IID and Imperial County. It calls for the county to designate the Salton Sea as a renewable energy zone and for IID to pledge the use of its extensive land holdings for generation projects ranging from utility-scale geothermal, solar and wind, subsurface mining operations and such emerging resources as algae and solar gradient ponds.

Under this scenario, renewable generation projects sited on the exposed lake bed become the catalyst for restoration, doubling as ground cover to mitigate for air emissions while contributing to, and making possible, a smaller but sustainable Salton Sea. Assuming a project build out of up to 1,400 megawatts over 10 years and a planning horizon of 30 years, the cost of this public-private approach is valued at

$3 billion, which is to be largely derived from new generation, or roughly a third of the state’s own preferred restoration alternative.

All that’s needed is a determination that addressing the looming environmental threat at the Salton Sea meets the state’s definition of a policy-driven objective on multiple fronts and to:

-Direct the California Independent System Operator to construct a 500-kV transmission line from Devers in Eastern Riverside County through the heart of IID’s energy balancing authority to the Imperial Valley Substation;

-Revisit the California Public Utilities Commission procurement policy to allow for up to 1,400 megawatts of must-take purchase power agreements from the Salton Sea resource area.

If the QSA is the linchpin of California’s commitment to live within its annual entitlement of 4.4 million acre-feet from the Colorado River, then the Salton Sea is its proving ground. At a time when California’s grid reliability and the certainty of its water supply are both in doubt, the clear path forward is a bold initiative to harness the sea’s renewable assets and enable its restoration.

That’s because the question of what to do about the Salton Sea is too big to ignore and the answer can’t be left to blow in the wind any longer.”