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Renewable energy benefits are numerous

HOLTVILLE — San Diego resident Rick Jarret came to the fifth annual Imperial Valley Renewable Energy Summit & Expo on Wednesday “just to check things out.”

Jarret is retired and considering “different opportunities for investing,” he said.

And it’s investors like Jarret and renewable energy developers who surely benefitted from the panel presentations of the summit.

How to navigate through government policy and the economic impacts of renewable energy projects were some of the issues discussed by two panels of experts.

The first panel was led by representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Independent Energy Producers Association, the California Public Utilities Commission and the Bureau of Land Management.

“We try to streamline processes as much as possible,” said Lanika Cervantes, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District.

Her organization, which is in charge of protecting water resources, deals with permits when water is on a developer’s site and discharges takes place.

Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers Association followed.

He noted that Imperial Valley is and has been “a great place to develop projects.”

But there are challenges at a local level, he said, mainly because areas that may have some issues “are being squeezed pretty hard,” he said.

Locals have to figure out what to do about farmland issues, he said.

California Public Utilities Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval informed the audience about new proceedings.

In the near future utilities are going to be allocated credits for emissions, she said.

Sandoval also pointed out a need to create the technology to store energy.

Finally, Thomas Zale, associate field manager of the Bureau of Land Management, discussed guidelines for developers, such as consulting with Native Americans and have biological and archaeological surveys done early.

After a break and lunch, attendees returned; this time to hear from developers about the economic promises of renewable energy.

The first presentation came from Vincent Signorotti from Energy Source LLC.

In less than two years the geothermal plant Hudson Ranch 1 went from construction to operation and created 55 full-time jobs, Signorotti said.

In addition the plant was built by PMC, a local contractor and that created more than 200 jobs, he said.

Aside of jobs, another economic benefit is tax revenues, according to panelists.

Geothermal energy is worth more than $1 billion in property taxes, Signorotti said, and that doesn’t include Hudson Ranch 1.

Solar projects, though exempt from property taxes under federal green incentives, create sales tax benefits to the county, said Tom Buttgenbach, president of 8 Minute Energy.

During the lifetime of his company’s solar projects, the county will collect about $50 million, he said.

Nevertheless, in terms of jobs, Buttgenbach did acknowledge that solar projects displace agricultural jobs.

“But we create five new jobs for any ag job displaced,” he said without explaining if these jobs are permanent or temporary.

There are other benefits of renewable energy that go beyond jobs and taxes.

Ajit Venkatraman, vice president of Simbol Materials, is hoping to use geothermal waste from the Valley and produce lithium for electric car batteries, manganese for metallurgy and even nutrients for agriculture.

These projects could mean about $25 billion in revenues, he said and added the country would benefit as a whole because lithium and manganese are produced in very specific locations abroad.

“There is more than enough lithium in this Valley to take care of all the growth from electric vehicles for the next 10 years,” he said.

Wind energy is also abundant in the Valley, said Glen Hodges, senior developer of Pattern Energy, who noted that wind energy in the Valley is comparable to that in Palm Springs. And if a proposed wind farm in Ocotillo is approved, more than 350 construction jobs would be created, Hodges said.

The number of jobs does become more modest after the project is completed, as 20 permanent positions would remain mainly for maintenance and operation.

Still, there is a “tremendous amount of property taxes,” he said.

Only in the first year of operation the county would get $5 million.

The information presented is educational and beneficial for the public, said Robert Morgan, president of Agile Energy. And though renewable energy development carries some trade-offs, Morgan said, “these are positive trade-offs.”

Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or adavila@ivpressonline.com

By ALEJANDRO DAVILA Staff Writer
Copyright © 2012, Imperial Valley Press