Lithium in Salton Sea

SACRAMENTO — The California State Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Communications voted to approve Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s AB 1657 – Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California Monday, August 3. The measure would require the California Energy Commission (CEC) to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission to explore and expand the State’s emerging lithium recovery industry, according to a press release.

“This is a significant opportunity for California as well as our Imperial Valley community to achieve our climate goals, balance the electrical grid, and stimulate economic development in areas most in need of investment,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. “We have not come close to tapping into the potential of this renewable power industry. By actively expanding this energy technology and developing a competitive lithium industry, this commission could serve as a valuable lever of our State’s economic recovery strategy to help bring back jobs and recoup critical economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), committee Chairman, applauded Garcia and remarked on the renewable energy and economic possibilities for the State and the Imperial Valley region they both represent, “I support this enormously because there is just so much more work we need to do to help put California in a sustainable future and this bill is a very important part of that.”

A news release issued by Berkeley Lab last week claimed, “Deep beneath the surface of the Salton Sea, a shallow lake in California’s Imperial County, sits an immense reserve of critical metals that, if unlocked, could power the State’s green economy for years to come.” Accordingly, the industry has become referred to as “Lithium Valley.” They assert that the Salton Sea Geothermal Field (SSGF) has a potential inferred lithium resource of 15 million metric tons and quotes CEC Chair, David Hochschild, saying California’s Lithium Valley has the potential to supply 40 percent of global lithium demand.

According to the release, over the last few years, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and Senator Ben Hueso have been generating support and urging their legislative colleagues to acknowledge the potential of the industry to meet climate benchmarks and uplift some of the State’s most impoverished areas. For Garcia, the pandemic heightened the significance of the endeavor as a way to bring much needed economic relief to Imperial County whose economic disparities have been further exacerbated.

Tim Kelley, President and CEO of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation testified on behalf of AB 1657 before the senate committee, noting that geothermal producers are the number one taxpayer in the County of Imperial and they provide over 500 direct jobs and 1,500 ancillary jobs in a community that was just named by the USDA as a persistent poverty county  — with an unemployment rate of over 30 percent.

In a letter of support submitted to the committee, Imperial Irrigation District also stated that, “Given the abundance of geothermal capacity and minerals at the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area, IID will continue to advocate for this important resource and looks forward to continue working with the Legislature and the Commission on this important matter.”

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