In August, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) held its annual National Geothermal Summit in Reno, Nevada. The event brought together energy companies, policymakers, and industry leaders to discuss the energy challenges facing the nation and the trade.
Among those in attendance was California State Senator Ben Hueso (D-Logan Heights), author of Senate Bill 1139, a major focal point of the summit's debates.
California and neighboring states are trying to attract Tesla’s plans to build a “Gigafactory," a lithium ion battery factory, which purportedly would include almost 7,000 new jobs. Hueso's SB 1139 may be California's new appeal for such investors. The bill would require retail sellers of electricity to procure 500 megawatts (MW) of electricity from base load geothermal power plants by 2024.
It is important to promote a policy that will assist the state’s RPS to ensure that the procurement process creates a more level playing field and evaluates all new and existing renewable resources accurately and fairly. The result will be a more diverse and cost-effective portfolio of renewable energy resources, which will help to balance the grid and maintain reliability while keeping consumer electric rates affordable. - Sen. Ben Hueso
Hueso represents California Senate District 40, which includes Imperial County, lower Riverside County, and large portions of San Diego County -- an area with significant geothermal potential.
The Imperial Valley is home to the Salton Sea, a landmark known for its 1,700 megawatts of unused geothermal resources, according to the Imperial Irrigation District. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there is an additional 2,500 MW of discovered geothermal power resources in California and 11,000 MW undiscovered.
These resources would be ideal for Tesla’s Gigafactory since the company depends on lithium, which can be harvested from geothermal power plants.
Reports have confirmed that the geothermal project would bring an “estimated $150 million in local property tax revenues and $2 million annually in lease payments to local governments and private landowners." Estimates of the bill's impact on other green sources of energy have not been released.
According to Hueso:
"Development of geothermal resources at the Salton Sea and at the Geysers will create thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs along with other important benefits."
Hueso isn't just looking out for his constituents. Instead, his bill has the potential to affect all Californians."The recent closure of the San Onofre Generating Station (SONGS), and other older inland gas plants, creates added pressure on the grid and increases energy vulnerability in Southern California," he argues. "Geothermal, and other base load renewable resources, provide important grid reliability benefits, including inertia and system balancing with low integration cost."
Various sources around California have publicly supported Hueso and SB 1139, including Sierra Club California, the State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, and the California Labor Federation. Hueso claims reasons for support vary from job creation to greenhouse gas reduction.
Many are in favor of the bill because it promotes an underutilized, clean, renewable resource that essentially would be an investment in the state’s clean energy future. Some energy-based companies, like Cal Energy, favor the bill because it promotes ratepayer protection from energy market volatility.
However, not all are in favor of the bill. Some argue that this legislation will detract from California meeting its renewable energy goals.
Hueso responded to this criticism:
"SB 1139 creates an infrastructure plan to move our state beyond its 33% RPS goals by 2020. In addition, this bill starts addressing GHG reductions and supports the goals of AB 32. Lithium is a byproduct of geothermal production and a necessary element for building batteries for electric cars. Therefore, this bill not only helps reduce greenhouse gases from electricity production, but also from vehicle emissions, which currently stands as the largest GHG contributor."