Dignitaries tour renewable energy plants




BRAWLEY – Statement: The QSA agreement calls for the State of California to pay mitigation fees for Salton Sea Restoration to prevent and alleviate health risks from blowing, polluted playa and to maintain wildlife habitat that surrounds the present borders.

Problem: The State of California is out of money and does not have the funds for the millions, perhaps billions estimated to mitigate the shrinking sea from the largest water transfer (QSA) from rural to urban in the history of the United States.

Possible Solution: Renewable energies from geothermal, to bio-fuels, to solar plants that surround the Salton Sea may just save the day.

On June 27, 2013 the Select Committee on California’s Energy Independence held an informational hearing on how the Imperial Valley’s renewables might create a funding stream to support the Sea’s restoration efforts, and if all goes as Sacramento hopes, create jobs, economical growth, and taxes to the state’s depleted coffers.

With this in mind, Senator Darrell Steinberg, the California Senate President Pro Tempore, Assemblyman Manuel Perez, and Senator Ben Hueso toured the first solar plant built in the Imperial Valley, Sun Peak Solar, the latest geothermal plant, Hudson I, the John L. Featherstone Plant, and an algae facility, Synthetic Genomics in a county bus chalk full of county, IID, and city officials and media.

Andy Horne, Deputy County Executive Officer Natural Resources Development, emceed the bus tour occasionally pulling up Valley experts such as Bruce Wilcox, Manager of Environmental Mitigation Program, such as when the caravan passed the IID’s managed marsh wetlands that was built with QSA funds to replace wildlife areas that will disappear with the water transfers.

Charles Hosken, COO of Sun Peak Solar, jumped on the bus upon entering their 123 acre facility. “Being the first solar plant we have learned a lot,” he told the bus riders. “One thing is we do have to wash the panels and we do it every time the output needles recede.”

All work is done at night. “The workers don’t like the hours so much, but we are a power company and we have to keep the output as high as we can, so all maintenance is done in the off hours.”

The plant generates enough energy to power approximately 14,000 homes and sells their electricity to the IID.

At EnergySource’s Hudson Ranch I facility, the group climbed the stairs of the turbine to get a panoramic view of the northwestern area of the Valley, including the Salton Sea. Besides generating 49.9 MW of clean renewable energy, the plant fights the heavy brine of manganese, zinc, and lithium of the subterranean hot water. Truck loads of silica are hauled to Arizona.

A hidden gem in the problem of heavy particles in the brine is the lithium. A test lithium extraction plant has been constructed on site. Once the rare earth metal is separated, a facility in Brawley will make lithium batteries.

According to Dave Watson, EnergySource President, this might prove to be very profitable as government agencies, looking to replace fossil fuels in drones with lithium batteries, are interested in lithium batteries manufactured in the United States. If the experimental stations pans out, the Brawley plant will be the only manufacturer of lithium batteries in the United States.

The last stop was Synthetic Genomics, a biotech company based in La Jolla. The company grows algae in Calipatria for research on dietary supplements. A prized algae grown on site is haematococcus.  This species is well known for its high content of the strong antioxidant, astaxanthin, which is important in aquaculture, various pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. According to officials at Synthetic Genomics, one kilo of this dark red, strong algae extract is valued at $15,000.

Perhaps the most important sites the Sacramento politicians saw were the townships of Niland and Calipatria. Economic vitality is of high importance not only to these businesses and the Valley, but also to these smaller communities.

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  1. The money to pay for air quality mitigation could come from growing switch grass in salt water under a Pilot Project by the Salton Sea Authority and the US Bureau of Reclamation with Bermuda Dunes Strategic Planning, Inc.

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